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In Judiciary Committee hearings, Joni Ernst says focus will be on nominee, not re-election

Sen. Joni Ernst speaks with members of the media before an event Sunday at Metro Harley-Davidson in Cedar Rapids. She wi
Sen. Joni Ernst speaks with members of the media before an event Sunday at Metro Harley-Davidson in Cedar Rapids. She will be back in the nation’s capital on Monday for Senate confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett. Ernst is a member of the Judiciary Committee, which is holding the hearings. (Nick Rohlman/Freelance)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Although it might affect her re-election effort, it will be “business as usual” for Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, when the Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings Monday on the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.

Ernst, who is trailing or tied with her Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield in a variety of polls, said Sunday while in Cedar Rapids for a fundraiser that she will fulfill her responsibility as a member of the Judiciary Committee regardless of what — if any — effect it might have on her re-election.

“Business as usual for me is doing the right thing for the state of Iowa,” the first-term Republican said. “That means I’m going through the vetting process with Judge Barrett. Is she going to uphold the Constitution?”

Ernst made a stop in Cedar Rapids on Sunday as part of her Ride Across Iowa, which raised funds for the Puppy Jake Foundation, an Iowa-based nonprofit that provides veterans with professionally trained service dog, and the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation’s Derecho Disaster Recovery, which was established to provide direct relief to victims of the hurricane-force August storm.

The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin hearings on Barrett, President Donald Trump’s nominee to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ernst acknowledged the controversy surrounding the hearings starting just 22 days before an election that might not only result in a new president, but also end Republican control of the Senate.

Minority Democrats have called for waiting until after the election to give voters a voice in the confirmation of the next justice. However, Republicans say that with the White House and Senate majority in the control of the same party there is no reason to delay the process as they did in 2016 when the GOP held the Senate, but Barack Obama was president.

It will be the first time for Ernst to participate in confirming a Supreme Court nominee. Although a junior member of the committee, which includes Iowa’s Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, she may be in the spotlight. Ernst is one of two Republican women on Judiciary Committee.

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She and Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn are the first Republican women to ever serve on the committee. Republicans were criticized for the lack of women on the committee during the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, which involved allegations of sexual assault by the nominee.

“So I think we just bring a great perspective to the committee,” Ernst said, adding “I think there will be a lot of focus on all of the women on the committee because we have a woman that’s coming in front of the committee.”

There are four Democratic women on the committee, including California Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president.

If confirmed, Barrett would be the fifth woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Ernst also downplayed concerns about COVID-19, noting that senators who attend the hearings in-person will be physically distanced to avoid spread.

“I think it’s smart that we follow the precautions as put in place by the office of the attending physician for us in the Senate,” she said. Members who do not want to be physically present, may participate in the hearings via Zoom, a video conferencing platform.

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

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