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Reparations 'pretty darned complicated, Sen. Joni Ernst says

'We need to reinforce that we are a compassionate nation ... and then move forward'

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, signs a “Make America Great Again” hat for a supporter June 15 during Ernst’s annual Roast and Ride fundraiser in Boone. (Photo by Erin Murphy, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, signs a “Make America Great Again” hat for a supporter June 15 during Ernst’s annual Roast and Ride fundraiser in Boone. (Photo by Erin Murphy, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Reparations is a “pretty darned complicated issue,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, who thinks the congressional discussion about compensation for the descendants of slaves will continue.

Candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination have been talking about reparations, and a U.S. House subcommittee held a hearing on the issue earlier this week.

“I do think there have been a lot of past harms done and a lot of injury to a lot of different groups,” Ernst, R-Iowa, told reporters Thursday, but added she hasn’t delved into the issue.

“I’m very focused on a lot of the issues facing our nation today,” such as rising tensions with Iran and her legislation on the Renewable Fuel Standard, she said.

The nation has evolved since President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in 1863, Ernst said.

“We need to reinforce that we are a compassionate nation and hate that there was injury and harm and horrible, horrible atrocities in our past,” she said.

“We have to acknowledge that and then move forward. We need to make lives better today by learning for some of the mistakes in that past.”

She pointed out that there are nations where slavery exists today.

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“We want to send a signal that’s not OK,” Ernst said. “But we do need to focus on issues at hand ... things that are really affecting our constituents today.”

The Democratic-led House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Legislation held a hearing Wednesday on legislation to create a national commission to study slavery’s legacy and consider proposals for reparations to African American descendants of slaves.

At least 11 of the Democratic candidates for president have voiced support for either the concept of reparations or the House bill to study it.

• Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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