Joni Ernst

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Joni Ernst
Joni Ernst official portrait.jpg
Vice Chair of the Senate Republican Conference
Assumed office
January 3, 2019
LeaderMitch McConnell
Preceded byRoy Blunt
United States Senator
from Iowa
Assumed office
January 3, 2015
Serving with Chuck Grassley
Preceded byTom Harkin
Member of the Iowa Senate
from the 12th district
In office
January 5, 2011 – November 28, 2014
Preceded byKim Reynolds
Succeeded byMark Costello
Auditor of Montgomery County
In office
Preceded byConnie Magneson[1]
Succeeded byTed Schoonover[2]
Personal details
Joni Kay Culver

(1970-07-01) July 1, 1970 (age 49)
Red Oak, Iowa, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Gail Ernst
(m. 1992; div. 2019)
EducationIowa State University (BA)
Columbus State University (MPA)
WebsiteSenate website
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Iowa Army National Guard
Years of service1993–2015[5]
RankUS-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant Colonel
Unit185th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion
Battles/warsIraq War

Joni Kay Ernst (née Culver, July 1, 1970)[6] is an American politician and former military officer serving as the junior United States Senator for Iowa since 2015.[7] A Republican, she served in the Iowa Senate from 2011 to 2014. She served in the Iowa Army National Guard from 1993 to 2015, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.[5] Ernst is the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress and the first female combat veteran elected to the United States Senate from any state.[8][9]

She was elected vice chair of the United States Senate Republican Conference in November 2018.[10]

Early life and career[edit]

Ernst was born Joni Kay Culver in Montgomery County, Iowa, the daughter of Marilyn and Richard Culver.[11] She was valedictorian of her class at Stanton High School.[12] She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Iowa State University,[13] and a Master of Public Administration degree from Columbus State University.[12][14] While in college, she took part in an agricultural exchange to the Soviet Union.[15]

Military career[edit]

Ernst joined Iowa State University’s ROTC program at age 20 and then the United States Army Reserve after graduating.[4] She served as a logistics officer and attained the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard. In 2003-2004, she spent 12 months in Kuwait as the company commander of the 1168th Transportation Company, during the Iraq War.[14][16][17] Near the end of her career, she served as the commanding officer of the 185th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion at Camp Dodge, the largest battalion in the Iowa Army National Guard.[18][19] Upon her retirement from the military in 2015, Ernst had served 23 years in the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard.[5]

Iowa politics[edit]

Ernst was elected the Montgomery County Auditor in 2004 and re-elected in 2008.[14][20]

Ernst was elected to the Iowa State Senate in a special election in 2011 and re-elected in 2012. She represented District 12, which serves the southwest part of the state.[16][17][21][22] Ernst was a member of the Education, Appropriations, Veterans Affairs, Rules and Administration and Health and Human Services committees of the senate.[23]

Following her election to the U.S. Senate, she resigned from the Iowa State Senate, effective November 28, 2014.[24]

U.S. Senate[edit]

2014 election[edit]

Ernst speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference

In July 2013, Ernst announced that she would seek the Senate seat held by retiring Democratic Senator Tom Harkin. Ernst received the endorsement of Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds in October 2013.[25] She was also endorsed by 23 current and former state legislators.[26] In March 2014 the Ernst campaign was endorsed by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.[27][28] In May 2014, she was endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.[29][30][31]

Ernst received widespread attention for a campaign advertisement she released in March 2014 where she employed a tongue-in-cheek comparison between her experience castrating pigs and her ability to cut "pork" in Congress.[32][33] Many found the ad to be humorous[34][35] and it was spoofed by late-night comedians including Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert,[36][37][38][39] Before the ad aired, Ernst had struggled in fundraising,[40][41] and two polls of the Republican primary taken in February 2014 had shown her in second place, several points behind Republican opponent Mark Jacobs.[42][43] After it aired, a Suffolk University poll in early April showed her with a narrow lead and a Loras College poll showed her essentially tied with Jacobs.[38][44][45][46] By May, she was being described by the media as the "strong front-runner".[29]

Ernst's freshman portrait

In an interview with the Des Moines Register on May 9, 2014, Ernst said she was "extremely offended" by comments made by Jacobs in which she was characterized as AWOL due to missing over 100 votes in the legislative session ending April 7, 2014. Ernst stated: "If [Jacobs] had any sort of service like I have, he would've understood what AWOL means. I have not been AWOL, I will never be AWOL."[47] Previously, in an article in The Gazette, Ernst cited her National Guard duty to rebuff criticism about her missing votes,[48] but The Gazette found that only 12 of the 117 missed votes came on days when she was on duty. The other 105 missed votes represented 57 percent of the Iowa Senate votes that session. Ernst's spokesman said she had a better than 90 percent voting record during her career in the Senate and that she never claimed guard service was the only reason she's missed votes this session.[48][49]

In endorsing her for the Republican Primary nomination, the Des Moines Register stated: "Ernst is a smart, well-prepared candidate who can wrestle with the details of public policy from a conservative perspective without seeming inflexible."[50]

In July 2014, Ernst's campaigning was temporarily paused while she participated in two weeks of National Guard duty.[51] In that same month, Ernst delivered the Republican Party's weekly address, where she criticized the health care scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs and pushed for a balanced federal budget and entitlement reform.[15]

On August 29, Ernst and Braley announced their agreement to hold three televised debates in Davenport, Des Moines, and Sioux City. They were held on September 28, October 11 and 16, respectively.[52]

On October 23, Ernst cancelled a scheduled meeting with the Des Moines Register's editorial board, citing as a reason the newspaper's negative editorials about her.[53] The newspaper's editorial board endorsed Ernst's opponent, Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley.[54][55]

Ernst won the 2014 Senate race 52.2% to 43.7%.[56] She is the first woman elected to represent Iowa in either House of Congress.


114th Congress (2015–2017)[edit]

Ernst was sworn into the United States Senate on January 3, 2015.[57] She delivered the official Republican response to the State of the Union on January 20.[57][58][59]

Ernst speaking at a campaign event in May 2016

In May 2016, Ernst was placed on Chris Cilizza's short list as a possible vice presidential running mate for Donald Trump's 2016 campaign to become the 45th President of the United States.[60][61] Other media outlets included her as a possible benefit to Trump's campaign as well.[62][63][64] On June 16, Ernst said no one had "reached out" to her and that she was content with this.[65] On July 4, she and Trump met privately.[66] Trump selected Governor Mike Pence of Indiana on July 15.[67]

In 2016, along with U.S. Senators Deb Fischer, Charles Grassley, and Ben Sasse, Ernst introduced "Sarah's Law" in honor of Sarah Root, a 21-year-old female student in Omaha who was killed in a street racing crash in January 2016.[68][69]

115th Congress (2017–2019)[edit]

Ernst attending the signing, by President Trump, of the INSPIRE Women Act on Tuesday, February 28, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House

On January 12, 2017, Ernst questioned Secretary of Defense nominee James Mattis on whether he would pledge to prioritizing cutting wasteful spending, stopping sexual assault and retaliation in the military, and enhance national security missions by leveraging the different abilities of "our guard and reserve forces"; Mattis committed to each.[70] Later that month, Ernst announced her intent to introduce legislation that would redirect funding for Planned Parenthood to other women's health care providers and that she already had a bill meant to overturn a policy of the Obama administration securing grants from Planned Parenthood to Title X family planning, furthering this would be accomplishable with a "pro-life president in the White House and pro-life majorities in the House and Senate".[71] President Trump signed the latter bill into law on April 13, 2017.[72]

In early February, Ernst predicted that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos would be confirmed and charged the Democrats in the Senate with trying to obstruct her confirmation due to bitterness over the election results two months prior.[73] After DeVos was confirmed, Ernst stated she had vetted DeVos, who she found to believe those physically closest to students knew what was best for them, and would hold her accountable during her tenure.[74]

On March 14, after the release of photographs of nude female soldiers on a Facebook page, Ernst stressed this "type of activity creates a culture that leads to sexual assault."[75] During a press conference on March 28, Ernst made the request of Congress for the passage to require individuals to immediately report suspected sexual assault at government facilities.[76]

116th Congress (2019–present)[edit]

On January 3, 2019, the first day of the 116th United States Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a roster of the Senate Judiciary Committee confirming Ernst and Marsha Blackburn's membership, the first female Republicans on the committee.[77]

In March 2019, after the Special Counsel Investigation concluded and Attorney General William Barr released a summary of the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Ernst called for a release of the report's full findings: "I strongly believe that as much of the report that can be made public should be — barring any national security threat. Taxpayers have paid millions for this investigation; it's only right that they see its findings."[78]

Committee assignments[edit]

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (third from left) and Senators Joni Ernst, Daniel Sullivan, John McCain, Tom Cotton, Lindsey Graham, and Cory Gardner attending the 2016 International Institute for Strategic Studies Asia Security Summit in Singapore

Political positions[edit]

During her 2014 campaign, Ernst cast herself as an independent Republican.[79] In 2019, Politico characterized her as "a reliable vote for most of Trump's agenda."[79] In fact, she votes with Trump 91.1% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight's "Tracking Congress in the Age of Trump" tally.[80]

For the 2017-2018 session of Congress, Ernst received a score of 86 from the American Conservative Union. She has a lifetime rating of 85 from that organization.


In March 2019, Ernst was one of thirty-eight senators to sign a letter to United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue warning that dairy farmers "have continued to face market instability and are struggling to survive the fourth year of sustained low prices" and urging his department to "strongly encourage these farmers to consider the Dairy Margin Coverage program."[81]

In April 2019, Ernst and Debbie Stabenow led five other senators in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Perdue urging the Agriculture Department to implement conservation measures in the 2018 Farm Bill "through a department-wide National Water Quality Initiative, which would build off the existing initiative housed at the Natural Resource Conservation Service."[82]

In May 2019, Ernst was a cosponsor of the Transporting Livestock Across America Safely Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Ben Sasse and Jon Tester intended to reform hours of service for livestock haulers through authorizing drivers to have the flexibility to rest at any point during their trip without it being counted against their hours of service and exempting loading and unloading times from the hours of service calculation of driving time.[83]

Barack Obama[edit]

In 2014, when asked about President Barack Obama's recess appointments, which the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously were unconstitutional, Ernst referred to Obama as a dictator who should be "removed from office" or face "impeachment."[84] She said, "He is running amok. He is not following our Constitution."[84][85]


Ernst opposes the federal minimum wage and has said that states should have sole authority to set their own minimum wages.[86][87] She has pointed to differences in the cost of living in various states, "I think $7.25 is appropriate for Iowa, but that's up for our state legislators to decide, and I'm willing to have those discussions at the state level."[88] In response to a Congressional Budget Office report which projected that increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would lift 900,000 out of poverty, but would cost 500,000 people their jobs, Ernst stated that "government and government-mandated wage increases are not the solution—especially when doing so comes at the expense of the jobs of hard working Americans."[89]

Ernst has proposed eliminating the Internal Revenue Service.[90] During the 2013 legislative session, Ernst worked on legislation which reduced property taxes in Iowa.[91] She says she supports a "fairer, flatter, and simpler" federal tax code.[47] In 2017, she voted for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.[92][79]

In 2014, Ernst expressed support for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget, as well as a reduction in spending on entitlement programs and discretionary spending.[47] She has expressed support for a partial privatization of Social Security accounts for young workers[29] while protecting Social Security for seniors and those nearing retirement.[93]

In May 2018, Ernst was one of nine Republican senators to introduce a rescission package meant to fulfill President Trump's wish to curb spending by $15.4 billion as part of an attempt to roll out the legislation to ensure it reached the Senate floor within a 45-day window while avoiding a filibuster from Democrats.[94]

In December 2018, Ernst voted to confirm Kathy Kraninger as the next Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in a decisive vote. The measure ultimately cleared the United States Senate chamber with all 50 present Republicans voting in favor of the confirmation and all 49 Democrats voting in opposition.[95]


She has advocated eliminating the U.S. Department of Education "not just because it would save taxpayer dollars, but because I do believe our children are better educated when it's coming from the state."[96][90]

Environmental issues[edit]

On the subject of global warming, Ernst has stated: "I don't know the science behind climate change, I can't say one way or another what is the direct impact from whether it's manmade or not", and believes that any regulatory role by the government to address it needs to be "very small."[47][97][98] Ernst has proposed eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency and criticized its interpretation of the Clean Water Act as applied to farms.[99][90] In a Republican primary debate in May 2014, Ernst said she would have voted against the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill and stated her view that the Clean Water Act is damaging for business.[29] Ernst has expressed her opposition to cap-and-trade.[47] She supported President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords in 2017.[100]

In January 2014, Ernst warned that Agenda 21, a 1992 United Nations voluntary action plan for sustainable development, could force Iowa farmers off their land, dictate what cities Iowans must live in, and control how Iowa citizens travel from place to place.[101] During the general-election campaign, Ernst moderated her tone, saying: "I don't think that the U.N. Agenda 21 is a threat to Iowa farmers ... I think there are a lot of people [who] follow that issue in Iowa. It may be something that is very important to them, but I think Iowans are very smart and that we have a great legislature here, we have a very intelligent governor, and I think that we will protect Iowans."[101]

In June 2018, Ernst said of Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt, "He is about as swampy as you get here in Washington, D.C., and if the president wants to drain the swamp, he needs to take a look at his own Cabinet."[102]

In June 2019, Ernst confirmed she had spoken with President Trump and EPA Administrator Andrew R. Wheeler when they were in Council Bluffs on limiting the EPA's issuing of small refinery waivers, saying President Trump had kept his promise but that the "EPA has a harmful habit of handing out small refinery waivers like candy — doing so behind closed doors, with no congressional oversight."[103]

Politico described Ernst as a "a strong supporter of the ethanol industry."[104]


Ernst speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland on February 26, 2015

In 2013, Ernst said Congress shouldn't bother to pass laws "that the states would consider nullifying", referring to what she describes as "200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment's states' rights."[105] Courts have consistently ruled that nullification is unconstitutional.[105] During the 2014 Senatorial general election, the Ernst campaign argued that she did not support nullification, and that "her comments on it were about encouraging Iowans to send her to Washington to pass good laws."[106]

Foreign policy[edit]

Ernst speaking about foreign policy at a campaign appearance for U.S. Senator Marco Rubio in Des Moines, Iowa
Ernst speaking to Navy Vice Admiral Michael M. Gilday during an Armed Services Committee hearing in 2019

She opposed the Iran deal negotiated by the Obama administration.[91]

Regarding the Iraq War and weapons of mass destruction, Ernst stated: "We don't know that there were weapons on the ground when we went in, however, I do have reason to believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That was the intelligence that was operated on. I have reason to believe there was weapons of mass destruction. My husband served in Saudi Arabia as an Army Central Command sergeant major for a year and that's a hot-button topic in that area."[47] After criticism from Iowa Democrats and some commentators,[38][107][108] Ernst then issued a clarifying statement in which she stated that she did not mean to suggest that Iraq had WMD at the time of invasion, but rather that Iraq had had WMDs in their past which they used, and that her point was that "we don't know exactly what happened to those weapons."[109]

When asked whether she supports the limited airstrikes conducted in Iraq in August 2014, Ernst said: "What I can say is what I would have supported is leaving additional troops in Iraq longer and perhaps we wouldn't have this situation today."[110]

In February 2016, Ernst criticized the Obama administration's ISIS strategy as ineffective.[111]

In an interview with Time Magazine, Ernst said that she was sexually harassed in the military, stating that "I had comments, passes, things like that" which she was able to stop, and said she will support removing sexual assault cases from the chain of command.[112]

On February 16, 2017, Ernst condemned the behavior of Russia as "totally unacceptable" and said President Trump would be needed in leading the US to "show strength against Vladimir Putin" during a call with reporters.[113] In July 2018, Ernst stated that she would proceed with caution if the US collaborated with Russia to form "a way we can partner and put a lid on Iran" and that she did not believe " Russia would ever be a true friend or ally to the United States of America." She cited North Korea as an example of a country where the US should cautiously work with leadership to develop "a resolution where the world becomes a safer place" if possible.[114] Following the 2018 Russia-United States summit later that month, Ernst stated her hope that President Trump "delivered a strong message behind closed doors that Russia will continue to be punished for their illegal annexation of Ukraine in 2014, their abhorrent support for the murderous Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and their aggressive actions in U.S. domestic policy" and added that she was hopeful Trump had talked with Putin about the role of Russia in the Balkins amid Kosovo's continued threats by the hybrid warfare tactics of Russia in Serbia.[115]

In April 2018, following the missile strikes against Syria carried out by the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, Ernst stated that she was "uncomfortable going forward" in the event that President Trump wanted to commit more American troops there, citing the US presently having "an effort to fight against ISIS in the region" as the main focus.[116] In December, after President Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops in Syria, Ernst was one of six senators to sign a letter expressing concern for the move and their belief "that such action at this time is a premature and costly mistake that not only threatens the safety and security of the United States, but also emboldens ISIS, Bashar al Assad, Iran, and Russia."[117]

In June 2018, Ernst stated her disagreement with President Trump's decision to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea and questioned why they would be suspended given their legality.[118] In July, Ernst advocated for the United States continuing military exercises in South Korea in the event that talks between the US and North Korea did not continue.[119]

In March 2018, Ernst voted to table a resolution spearheaded by Bernie Sanders, Chris Murphy, and Mike Lee that would have required President Trump to withdraw American troops either in or influencing Yemen within the next 30 days unless they were combating Al-Qaeda.[120] In November 2018, following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Ernst stated that Saudi Arabia was "great strategic partner" but that Congress should consider a legislative response due to the commitment of the United States to human rights and the rule of law. Ernst furthered that President Trump should become involved "if there are indicators coming from those intelligence agencies".[121] In December, Ernst warned against a resolution withdrawing American support for the Saudi Arabia-led intervention in Yemen possibly complicating peace talks in Yemen and that Saudi Arabia should be punished for Khashoggi's death but that "those consequences are I see as right now are separate from the discussion of the Saudis and their actions in Yemen engaging the Houthis."[122]

In July 2019, Ernst was one of sixteen Republican senators to send a letter to Acting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Russell Vought, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin encouraging them to work with them to prevent a continuing resolution "for FY 2020 that would delay the implementation of the President's National Defense Strategy (NDS) and increase costs" and that the year long continuing resolution suggested by administration officials would render the Defense Department "incapable of increasing readiness, recapitalizing our force, or rationalizing funding to align with the National Defense Strategy (NDS)."[123]

In October 2019, Ernst was one of six senators to sign a bipartisan letter to President Trump calling on the president to "urge Turkey to end their offensive and find a way to a peaceful resolution while supporting our Kurdish partners to ensure regional stability" and opining that leaving Syria without installing protections for American allies endangers both them and the US itself.[124]

Gun control[edit]

Ernst is a gun owner.[125] She has an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA endorsed her during the 2014 election stating "In contrast to anti-gun Bruce Braley, Joni Ernst is committed to protecting the Second Amendment and will continue to oppose all attempts to ban lawfully-owned firearms and magazines. She will stand strong against President Obama and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's gun control agenda."[126] Since 2014, Ernst has received $3,124,273 in financial support from the NRA.[127][128]

Ernst has expressed her support for allowing law-abiding citizens to "freely carry" weapons but abide by rules against carrying in public buildings like schools.[47] In February 2013, Ernst co-sponsored a resolution addressing "the Iowa General Assembly's refusal to recognize or support any statutes, presidential directives, or other regulations and proclamations which conflict with the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and which are expressly preempted by the rulings of the United States Supreme Court".[129][130] She has also received an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association for her support of gun-rights issues.[131]

In response to the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, Ernst said "Our prayers are with the lives lost, those injured, and their loved ones in this senseless act of violence in Las Vegas."[127]

In October 2017, Ernst was one of ten Republican senators to sign a letter to acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (ATF) Thomas Brandon requesting that the bureau review an Obama administration decision on bump stocks with the belief "that this renewed review and determination will keep our citizens safe and ensure that federal law is enforced."[132]

Following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Ernst stated that mental illness was the "root cause" for many mass shootings.[133] Ernst also was a cosponsor of the NICS Denial Notification Act,[134] legislation developed in the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that would require federal authorities to inform states within a day of a prohibited person attempting to buy a firearm failing the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.[135]

In January 2019, Ernst was one of thirty-one Republican senators to cosponsor the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, a bill introduced by John Cornyn and Ted Cruz that would grant individuals with concealed carry privileges in their home state the right to exercise this right in any other state with concealed carry laws while concurrently abiding by that state's laws.[136]


Ernst indirectly endorsed Paul Ryan's partially privatized Medicare model in a 2011 Iowa Senate vote. According to an August 2014 article in The Gazette, she has not laid out a detailed plan for Medicare reform.[137]

Ernst supports repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) saying that it is "an additional tax of $1.2 trillion on the American people over the next decade and I believe we need to eliminate Obamacare but replace it with free market alternatives."[47] She voted for all three versions of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) of 2017 that came up for the Senate during the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.[138][139][140]

In 2012, Ernst answered "Yes" when asked if she would support legislation that would "nullify ObamaCare and authorize state and local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement [it]."[141][142][143]

In August 2018, Ernst was one of ten Republican senators to cosponsor a bill amending federal law to add a guarantee on the availability of health insurance to Americans including those with pre-existing conditions regardless of the outcome of a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act filed by Republican-controlled states.[144]


In November 2015, Ernst said the U.S. should halt the immigration of Syrian refugees, calling for a "thorough vetting process", and commenting that President Obama did not have "a clearly communicated and comprehensive strategy".[145]

In June 2018, Ernst, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Patrick Leahy wrote a letter to United States Defense Secretary James Mattis of their being "deeply troubled by the department's decision to send twenty-one active and reserve JAGs to the border on temporary orders to prosecute immigration cases" and expressing the view that dispatching "twenty-one trial counsel from military courtrooms to prosecute immigration cases is an inappropriate misapplication of military personnel" before urging Mattis to maintain the military lawyers within the military justice system.[146]

In July 2018, Ernst was one of thirty-one Republican senators to submit a resolution endorsing Immigration and Customs Enforcement and opining that its abolition "would allow dangerous criminal aliens, including violent and ruthless members of the MS-13 gang, to remain in communities in the United States."[147]

In January 2019, during the 2018–19 United States federal government shutdown that resulted after President Trump demanded 5.7 billion toward a border wall, Ernst told reporters that she would "tend to agree that not all areas of our border need a physical barrier" and that the US would not need a barrier in areas "adequately patrolled by Border Patrol agents", with "technology to monitor those areas without having a physical barrier", and if agents could "adequately respond in a timely manner to illegal border crossing".[148]

Relationship with Steve King[edit]

Ernst's relationship with Steve King, a House Representative known for his racist rhetoric and support for far-right politicians, has stirred controversy. In 2016 when King faced a primary challenge for his House seat, Ernst endorsed him, saying he "stands strong for life and liberty."[149][150] When King stirred controversy in 2017 by saying "we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies" and by supporting European far-right politicians, Ernst said she did not condone King's behavior but she would not ask for his resignation.[151][152] In 2017, the Des Moines Register wrote a scathing editorial against King, which criticized Ernst for endorsing him in the past and not condemning him.[153][154] In 2018, she appeared with King at a rally in his district after King had endorsed a Canadian politician with neo-Nazi ties.[155] In 2019, amid extensive criticism of King by Republican politicians after King made controversial remarks about white supremacy, Ernst rebuked him.[156] The New York Times wrote that Ernst's belated distancing to King might harm her 2020 re-election efforts, as she previously "had spent years embracing Mr. King."[157] Art Cullen, editor of The Storm Lake Times, condemned the belated response by Ernst, describing it as "hypocrisy" for her to condemn him only weeks after campaigning with him and when his views had been well-known for a long time.[158] The editorial board of the Des Moines Register questioned why it took national condemnation for Ernst to rebuke King.[159]

Social issues[edit]

Ernst has said she believes marriage is a "state issue." She co-sponsored a failed bill to amend the Iowa constitution to have marriage legally defined as between one man and one woman.[29][160] She opposes same-sex marriage.[161]

Ernst is pro-life, believing that life begins at conception.[162] She voted for a fetal personhood amendment in the Iowa Senate in 2013 and has said that she would support a federal personhood bill.[163] On October 31, 2019, Ernst voted in a 12-10 party-line vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee to send the nomination of anti-abortion attorney Sarah Pitkyk to the Senate for confirmation to the federal bench.[164][165] Pitlyk defended Iowa’s six-week abortion ban, one of the earliest pre-viability bans.[165] In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, defendants' attorney Pitlyk equated hormonal birth control with abortion, arguing that providing employees birth control coverage as mandated in the Affordable Care Act requires employers to “cooperate in the destruction of human life.” She also repeatedly defended Planned Parenthood smear-campaign fake video producer David Daleiden. The nonpartisan American Bar Association (ABA) unanimously found Pitlyk "Not Qualified" to serve as a federal judge.[165]

When File 79 was up for a vote in the Iowa Senate, a bill that would legalize medical marijuana, Ernst expressed concerns that the drug "would ultimately end up in the hands of minors."[166]


In 2018, as Trump imposed tariffs as part of his trade policy and other countries responded in kind, Ernst said she was willing to give the president some leeway but worried about the impact on farmers.[167] In May 2019, amid a trade war between the United States and China, Ernst said she did not like tariffs but that the "president's way of negotiating ... brings people to the table."[168] She said that Iowa farmers are "disappointed" but that they recognize "that China is the one that is forcing this."[169]

In January 2018, Ernst was one of thirty-six Republican senators to sign a letter to President Trump requesting he preserve the North American Free Trade Agreement by modernizing it for the economy of the 21st Century.[170] In August 2018, Ernst warned that failure to finish trade deals would "reflect negatively upon our Republican candidates" and advocated for completing NAFTA and continuing to work with the European Union.[171]

In July 2019, Ernst accused Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi of "slow-walking" the passage of a North American trade agreement and stated that she believed there was enough support in the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate to ratify the agreement: "By and large, Americans think it's a good way to go."[172]

Personal life[edit]

In 1992, Ernst (then named Joni Culver) married Gail Ernst.[173] The Ernsts have one daughter, Libby.[3][4] Gail Ernst has two daughters from his previous marriage to Ingrid Nesbit, which ended in divorce.[11][22][174] On August 27, 2018, Ernst announced that she and her husband were in the process of obtaining a divorce.[175] In a sworn affidavit, Ernst stated that she declined then-candidate Trump's offer of becoming his vice presidential candidate, because Gail "hated any successes [she] had and would belittle [her] and get angry any time [she] would achieve a goal", and that she made "sacrifices ... out of concern for Gail and [their] family."[176] Gail stated that he "gave up his aspirations" to support Ernst's pursuit of her political ambitions.[177] The divorce was finalized in January 2019, with Joni Ernst alleging that Gail had verbally and mentally abused her and on one occasion physically assaulted her. The Ernsts accused each other of infidelity; both denied the respective accusations.[178]

In her first interview following her divorce, Ernst revealed that she had been raped in college.[179]

Ernst is a lifetime member of the Montgomery County Republican Women, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2265, Montgomery County Court of Honor, Altrusa, PEO Chapter HB, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association,[180] and member of the Montgomery County Farm Bureau.[22] She is a member of the Mamrelund Lutheran Church (ELCA) of Stanton, Iowa.[14]

Electoral history[edit]

Iowa State Senate 12th district election, 2012
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Republican Joni Ernst 22,205 99.06%
Write-ins Write-ins 210 0.93%
U.S. Senate Republican primary election in Iowa, 2014
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Republican Joni Ernst 88,535 56.12%
Republican Sam Clovis 28,418 18.01%
Republican Mark Jacobs 26,523 16.81%
Republican Matt Whitaker 11,884 7.53%
Republican Scott Schaben 2,233 1.42%
Republican Write-ins 155 0.10%
U.S. Senate election in Iowa, 2014
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Republican Joni Ernst 588,575 52.10%
Democratic Bruce Braley 494,370 43.76%
Independent Rick Stewart 26,815 2.37%
Libertarian Douglas Butzier 8,232 0.73%
Term Limits Bob Quast 5,873 0.52%
Independent Ruth Smith 4,724 0.42%
Write-ins Write-ins 1,111 0.10%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "4 Nov 2004, Page 6 - The Des Moines Register at".
  2. ^ Peterson, Mike. "Schoonover named to workforce development post".
  3. ^ a b Hughes, Emer (November 3, 2014). "Gail Ernst, Joni Ernst's Husband: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know".
  4. ^ a b c Rogin, Ali (July 18, 2016). "Joni Ernst: Everything You Need to Know". ABC News.
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External links[edit]

Iowa Senate
Preceded by
Kim Reynolds
Member of the Iowa Senate
from the 12th district

January 5, 2011 – November 28, 2014
Succeeded by
Mark Costello
Party political offices
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Republican nominee for
U.S. Senator from Iowa (Class 2)

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