Joni Kay Ernst (née Culver, July 1, 1970) is an American combat veteran and politician serving as the junior United States Senator for Iowa since 2015. 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. Ernst is the first woman to represent Iowa in the United States Congress and is the first female combat veteran elected to the United States Senate from any state.
|Vice Chair of the Senate Republican Conference|
|Assumed office |
January 3, 2019
|Preceded by||Roy Blunt|
|United States Senator|
|Assumed office |
January 3, 2015
Serving with Chuck Grassley
|Preceded by||Tom Harkin|
|Member of the Iowa Senate|
from the 12th district
January 5, 2011 – November 28, 2014
|Preceded by||Kim Reynolds|
|Succeeded by||Mark Costello|
|Auditor of Montgomery County|
|Preceded by||Connie Magneson|
|Succeeded by||Ted Schoonover|
Joni Kay Culver
July 1, 1970
Red Oak, Iowa, U.S.
(m. 1992; div. 2019)
|Education||Iowa State University (BA)|
Columbus State University (MPA)
|Branch/service|| United States Army|
Iowa Army National Guard
|Years of service||1993–2015|
|Unit||185th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion|
Early life and careerEdit
Ernst was born Joni Kay Culver in Montgomery County, Iowa, the daughter of Marilyn and Richard Culver. She was valedictorian of her class at Stanton High School. She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Iowa State University, and a Master of Public Administration degree from Columbus State University. While in college, she took part in an agricultural exchange to the Soviet Union.
Ernst served as a logistics officer and attained the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard. 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. Upon her retirement from the military in 2015, Ernst had served 23 years between the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard. She spent 12 months in Kuwait in 2003–04 as the company commander of the 1168th Transportation Company during the Iraq War.
Iowa State SenateEdit
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. Ernst was a member of the Education, Appropriations, Veterans Affairs, Rules and Administration and Health and Human Services committees of the Iowa State Senate.
Following her election to the U.S. Senate, she resigned from the Iowa State Senate effective November 28, 2014.
U.S. Senate electionEdit
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. She was also endorsed by 23 current and former state legislators. In March the Ernst campaign was endorsed by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. In May 2014, she was endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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. Many found the ad to be humorous and it was spoofed by late-night comedians including Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, Before the ad aired, Ernst had struggled in fundraising, and two polls of the Republican primary taken in February 2014 had shown her in second place, several points behind opponent Mark Jacobs. 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. By May, she was being described by the media as the "strong front-runner".
In an interview with the Des Moines Register on May 9, 2014, Ernst said she was "extremely offended" by comments made by Republican opponent Mark 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 [Mark 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." Previously, in an article in The Gazette, Ernst cited her National Guard duty to rebuff criticism about her missing votes, 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 that 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.
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." 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. The newspaper's editorial board endorsed Ernst's opponent, Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley.
In July 2014, Ernst's campaigning was temporarily paused while she participated in two weeks of National Guard duty. 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.
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.
Ernst won the 2014 Senate race 52.2% to 43.7%. She is the first woman elected to represent Iowa in either House of Congress.
- Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
- Committee on Armed Services
- Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
- Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship
114th Congress (2015–2017)Edit
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. Other media outlets included her as a possible benefit to Trump's campaign as well. On June 16, Ernst said no one had "reached out" to her and that she was content with this. On July 4, she and Trump met privately. Governor Mike Pence of Indiana was chosen for the job on July 15, 2016.
In 2016, along with U.S. Senators Deb Fischer, Charles Grassley, and Ben Sasse, Joni 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.
115th Congress (2017–2019)Edit
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. 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". President Trump signed the latter bill into law on April 13, 2017.
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. 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.
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." 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.
After President Trump's selection of Christopher A. Wray for Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on June 7, a spokeswoman for Ernst's intention to vet and ensure Wray as "a good choice for the position of FBI Director." On June 15, during a conference call after the Senate voted 98-2 for bestowing financial sanctions on Russia, Ernst said the choice came as a result of the US being disenfranchised with Russia for having attempted to interfere with the last presidential election, the country's support for the Syrian regime, Ukraine military intrusion, and their cyber activity and that the US was "trying to show some strength and send a clear message to Iran and Russia that they cannot do these types of actions."
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'a membership, the first female Republicans on the committee.
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."
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."
In 2014, when asked about President Barack Obama's recess appointments, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously were unconstitutional, Ernst referred to Obama as a dictator who should be "removed from office" or face "impeachment." She said, "He is running amok. He is not following our Constitution."
Ernst opposes the federal minimum wage and has said that states should have sole authority to set their own minimum wages. 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." 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."
Ernst has proposed eliminating the Internal Revenue Service. During the 2013 legislative session, Ernst worked on legislation which reduced property taxes in Iowa. She says she supports a "fairer, flatter, and simpler" federal tax code. In 2017, she vetoed for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
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. She has expressed support for a partial privatization of Social Security accounts for young workers while protecting Social Security for seniors and those nearing retirement.
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.
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.
She has advocated eliminating the 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."
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." Ernst has proposed eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency and criticized its interpretation of the Clean Water Act as applied to farms. 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. Ernst has expressed her opposition to cap-and-trade. She supported President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords in 2017.
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. 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 that 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."
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."
Politico described Ernst as a "a strong supporter of the ethanol industry."
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." Courts have consistently ruled that nullification is unconstitutional. 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."
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." After criticism from Iowa Democrats and some commentators, 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."
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."
In February 2016, Ernst criticized the Obama administration's ISIS strategy as ineffective.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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."
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. 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.
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. 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". 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."
Ernst is a gun owner. 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." Since 2014, Ernst has received $3,124,273 in financial support from the NRA.
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. 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". She has also received an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association for her support of gun-rights issues.
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."
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.
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." 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.
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]."
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.
In November 2015, Ernst said the US 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".
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.
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."
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".
Relationship with Steve KingEdit
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." 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. 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. In 2018, she appeared with King at a rally in his district after King had endorsed a Canadian politician with neo-Nazi ties. In 2019, amid extensive criticism of King by Republican politicians after King made controversial remarks about white supremacy, Ernst rebuked him. 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." 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. The editorial board of the Des Moines Register questioned why it took national condemnation for Ernst to rebuke King.
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. She opposes same-sex marriage.
Ernst is pro-life, believing that life begins at conception. She voted for a fetal personhood amendment in the Iowa Senate in 2013 and has said that she would support a federal personhood bill.
In 2013, Ernst voted against bringing Senate File 79 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."
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. 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." She said that Iowa farmers are "disappointed" but that they recognize "that China is the one that is forcing this."
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. 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.
In 1992, Ernst (then named Joni Culver) married Gail Ernst. The Ernsts have one daughter, Libby. Gail Ernst has two daughters from his previous marriage to Ingrid Nesbit, which ended in divorce. On August 27, 2018, Ernst announced that she and her husband were in the process of obtaining a divorce. In a sworn affidavit, Ernst stated that she declined then-candidate Donald 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." Gail stated that he "gave up his aspirations" to support Ernst's pursuit of her political ambitions. 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.
In her first interview following her divorce, Ernst revealed that she had been raped in college.
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, and member of the Montgomery County Farm Bureau. She is a member of the Mamrelund Lutheran Church (ELCA) of Stanton, Iowa.
|Iowa State Senate 12th district election, 2012|
|U.S. Senate Republican primary election in Iowa, 2014|
|U.S. Senate election in Iowa, 2014|
|Term Limits||Bob Quast||5,873||0.52%|
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Ernst has presented privatized models for social security reform and indirectly endorsed Paul Ryan's privatized Medicare model with her 2011 vote.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Joni Ernst.|
- Senator Joni Ernst official U.S. Senate website
- Joni Ernst for U.S. Senate campaign website
- Joni Ernst at Curlie
- Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Profile at Vote Smart
- Financial information (federal office) at the Federal Election Commission
- Legislation sponsored at the Library of Congress
- Appearances on C-SPAN
| Member of the Iowa Senate
from the 12th district
|Party political offices|
| Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Iowa
| Vice Chair of the Senate Republican Conference
| U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Iowa
Served alongside: Chuck Grassley
|U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)|
| United States Senators by seniority