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Local

Ernst hosts Newton town hall at DMACC

Attendees question tariffs, Mueller report, Russia

With a microphone in hand, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, spent one hour addressing the national and regional concerns of Jasper County citizens during a Wednesday morning town hall meeting at DMACC Newton Campus, one of several stops of the lawmaker’s 99 County Tour.

The senator later told the Newton Daily News the topics discussed at the many town hall meetings she organizes are often “very diverse,” and Newton was no exception. Oftentimes, there are overlapping issues. Questions pertaining to pharmaceuticals and healthcare and gun control are common amongst any county in the state.

Rural communities, Ernst said, are more interested in trade policies. The agricultural commodities “have suffered” as the United States continues to battle trade negotiations with places like China, Canada and Mexico. As such, the subject of tariffs was one of the first Ernst tackled at the Newton town hall.

Trade deals and tariffs

Ernst claimed the United States is at a point where it is beginning see a resolution with China on a trade deal, stressing it is “important that we get this right.” As the country moves forward, she added, not only does the United States want a good trade policy with China but one that can be enforceable.

“That was part of the problem in the past is that there have not been the proper enforcement mechanisms in place to hold China accountable,” Ernst said. “So our farmers, our ranchers, our manufacturers here in Iowa have suffered immensely through China’s trade actions through the years.”

What Ernst has heard from Iowans “is that they’re glad that President Trump is standing up to China, they’re glad that finally somebody is doing something about it,” but a trade deal still needs to be negotiated and completed soon. The retaliatory tariffs, she added, are hurting Iowa farmers. One-off purchases with China won’t cut it. The United States, she said, needs long-term policy.

Medicare rebate rule

Thad Nearmyer, Jasper County Republican Party chair, asked the senator about the rebate rule in regards to Medicare Part D. His understanding is if the current administration enacts this rule, “there could be a 25 percent increase in premiums and $169 billion increase in federal spending.”

Ernst said she’s concerned about it and said lawmakers need to make sure they’re scrutinizing that.

“What we don’t want to do is hit our seniors even more with this,” she said. “So I think we need to delve into it. And Sen. (Chuck) Grassley is doing a good job at that right now and trying to get to the bottom of it. We’re going to be looking at this.”

Broadly, Ernst added, lawmakers need to look at and control the costs of health care for those that need it. Presently, Ernst said they’re looking at pharmaceuticals “across the board.” What she has heard from consumers and health care providers is that probably the largest cost is coming from pharmaceuticals.

“And making sure that we’re getting the necessary drugs for the people that need them, but at a reasonable cost,” Ernst said. 

Transgender people in the military

As the first female combat veteran elected to U.S. Senate, Ernst was asked by a town hall attendee what she thinks about U.S. Department of Defense’s regulations barring transgender people from serving in the military. Ernst said she is supportive of transgender adults serving their country if they are “able and willing.”

She added, “The question comes when if they are going through transition they’re not able to deploy and so forth. So we want to make sure that anyone that is serving our nation is able to go through the deployment process … Do I support them serving? Yes, I do.”

Admitting it is still “a very difficult issue,” Ernst questioned how transgender people going through transition would affect the other members of their unit. She believed the United States will be able to find its way to allowing transgender persons to serve openly some day.

“You know what, if you’re willing to bleed and die for this country I think you should have that opportunity,” Ernst said. 

Mueller report and
election tampering

Ernst was asked to comment on the recent report released by special counsel Robert Mueller determining there was no evidence of collusion between President Donald Trump and Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election cycle. The Iowa Senator supports the report’s findings.

“There was no evidence of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, bottom line,” Ernst said.

However, Ernst clarified the United States does know Russia “tampered in our elections” but that “is not the same as the Trump campaign colluding with Russia,” claiming the country meddles “in so many other elections around the globe.” Ernst urged the importance of cyber security is crucial and safeguarding the United States’ election system.

“We have elections databases that are online, we need to make sure those are firewalled and that any irregularity that pops up needs to be reported to the federal government,” Ernst said at the Wednesday town hall.

The state of Iowa, she added, has one of the safest voting processes in the United States and is “often used as an example of best practices for other states to follow.” Federal agencies, she said, are pushing back against any Russian interference.

‘Russia’s not our friend’

The town hall attendee inquiring about the Mueller report also questioned if it bothered her she can admit Russia tampered in the presidential election but Trump “won’t come out and admit that.”

Ernst said, “I will state it: Russia’s not our friend. I can state it clearly. I think we all know that. Russia is not our friend. Russia will never be our friend. I have stated that I will not trust President (Vladimir) Putin any further than I can throw him.”

A sentiment, she claimed, is felt among other members of Congress.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

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