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In U.S. Senate, Joni Ernst finds 'so much politics in politics'

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, visits with Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart on Monday after speaking to the Downtown Rotary Club in Cedar Rapids. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, visits with Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart on Monday after speaking to the Downtown Rotary Club in Cedar Rapids. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Sen. Joni Ernst has found there are major differences between her 10 years of holding office at the county and state levels and her five years in the U.S. Senate.

At the Montgomery County Courthouse and the Iowa Capitol, she could walk to the next office or look across the Senate chamber to find colleagues to work with.

“But wow, you get to the U.S. Senate and it’s different,” the first-term Republican senator told the Cedar Rapids Downtown Rotary Club on Monday.

At the Statehouse, “if I was working on a project that I thought was really important ... I could look across the aisle and I could see maybe Sen. Rob Hogg or maybe (Sen.) Joe Bolkcom, whoever I needed to talk to.”

“Usually at end of the day you could arrive at a mutually agreeable bill to move forward,” Ernst said.

But in Washington, she’s found “there is so much politics in politics.”

“I don’t know that it’s baked into the process, but it’s certainly sprinkled on top,” she said after taking questions from the Rotarians, who sang “Happy Birthday” to her.

And it only gets worse during a campaign cycle, which is pretty much nonstop because one-third of Senate seats are on the ballot every two years. Some senators are reluctant to work across party lines because “they don’t want to give a win to someone in an election.”

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“That’s unfortunate because we should be the adults in the room,” said Ernst, who is seeking reelection in 2020.

That highlights the importance of building relationships with colleagues from both parties, she said. Ernst cited her work with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., on military and campus sexual assault as an example of finding issues to cooperate on regardless of party “even if you can find only 10 percent you can agree on and work together on.”

That’s also true of President Donald Trump’s relationship with Kim Jong Un, Ernst said when asked about the president’s historic visit to North Korea over the weekend.

“There may be some naysayers out there, but I do think that because North Korea is a threat with some of the capabilities they have, not only to the United States but to our allied partners in the Pacific, continuing discussions with Kim Jong Un is very important, she said.

“We won’t align ideologically, but that’s why we need to have some of these discussions.”

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

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