During her 99 County Tour, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) stopped in Ringgold County to tour Excel Engineering with Excel President Doug Sobotka. Excel Engineering, 1587 160th Ave. in Diagonal, is “a highly qualified and certified provider of emissions and engine testing services.” Following the tour, a question and answer session was held and attended by approximately 15 employees 2:30 p.m. Friday.
During the session, Ernst was asked to address topics such as the Second Amendment, COVID-19 stimulus packages, the 2020 presidential election, the Keystone XL pipeline, trade agreements with China, renewable energy, the U.S.-Mexico border wall, and her own personal experience of the U.S. Capitol riot.
Election not stolen
When the discussion rolled around to the 2020 presidential election, Ernst was asked to share her own thoughts as to the validity of the outcome.
“What I can say from what I’ve been able to see — and believe me, I am a Donald Trump supporter, I loved his policies the past four years — but I can’t say that the election was stolen,” she said.
Ernst said she came to this conclusion by drawing on what she learned while serving six years as the Montgomery County auditor and commissioner of elections, where she gained insight into how the voting system works.
“I understand how at the end of any voting cycle, you have to be able to balance your books and be able to show for every ballot that was cast: one ballot, one registered, legal voter. So, overall, do I believe that there was fraud in various elections? Yes, because I think that happens, actually, in most election cycles. But was there enough to change the outcome of the election? I don’t truly believe there was,” she said.
Ernst said if fraud did occur in the 2020 presidential election, those responsible need to be identified and prosecuted.
“I can’t say that the election was stolen, but we need to figure out the irregularities and then how we can correct that so that it doesn’t happen in four years,” she said.
At the riot
Ernst said she was on the floor of the Senate when the capitol riot occurred Jan. 6. Ernst said she had two women in their early 20s with her that day who were serving as pages when the rioters made their way inside.
“They were crying and shaking very badly. You can imagine as young women, it was horrifying,” she said.
Ernst said when the rioters entered the capitol, she and the other officials were receiving Tweets and text messages about what was occurring outside.
“And the Sergeant at Arms came in, they got the vice president out. Chuck Grassley immediately went and sat in the chair because he was president pro term, and he then gaveled us into recess. And he said, ‘The Senate will stand in recess, rioters have broken into the capitol.’ And with that, they pulled Sen. Grassley out of the chamber. The minute he was out, they slammed the doors and locked the rest of us in,” she said.
Ernst said while they were locked inside, they could hear people shouting in the hallways.
“But those hallways echo, so you had no idea where the rioters were. And you can’t see out, once they shut those doors — we don’t have windows — once they close those exterior, wooden doors. So, we weren’t really sure what was going on at that point, other than the messages we were getting on our phones. So, it was horrifying — a really horrible day, I think, for our nation,” she said.
As a veteran, Ernst said she related the attack to one from her past.
“I am a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and there was one convoy in particular where I had Iraqis swarming over my Humvee. They were on our vehicles, they were pulling everything they could off of our vehicles. It was scarier than heck. This incident came pretty darn close to meeting that threshold,” she said.
Ernst said her experience at the capitol was only dialed down due to the sacrifice and service of the capitol police.
“The capitol police, when we were finally able to evacuate, they had used their bodies kind of as a shield against the protestors, so that we could be evacuated. So, they were down the hall a bit — they weren’t up in my face — but it was horrifying,” she said.
Ernst said she still has a lot of questions about what happened that day. And as for former President Donald Trump, Ernst said she did not approve of his leadership Jan. 6.
“He exhibited poor leadership on that day. I really wish that the president had come forward much sooner,” she said.
However, Ernst said based on Trump’s speeches, she does not believe the former president was attempting to incite a riot, but rather a peaceful protest.
“He actually said, ‘Peacefully. We are peacefully marching and protesting to the capitol.’ There were various groups that took it beyond that and did their own thing. And they need to be prosecuted,” she said.
Ernst, therefore, said that she did not vote for Trump’s second impeachment, saying she believed the ruling would have been unconstitutional.
“But I just wish he would have come out much sooner and said, ‘Please, please stop. Lives are on the line.’ ... So, it was a really bad day,” she said.
An open discussion
From her support of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms — responsibly — she added, to a discussion surrounding the U.S.-Mexico border wall and another hitting on the extreme weather that has affected the electric grid in places like Texas, Ernst spoke openly to Excel employees, answering their questions. When asked to address the Keystone XL pipeline, Ernst said she is concerned about the effects of President Joe Biden’s executive order revoking the cross-border permit.
“We’ll see so many people who will be out of work because of that, and those are really, really good paying jobs. And the administration has said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to move them into green energy.’ But when asked point-blank, ‘Where are those jobs? Are those families going to be able to access those jobs?’ They have no idea and they can’t say when those jobs will become available,” she said.
On a different note, Ernst said that if trade agreements with China stay in place for the export of agricultural purchases, Iowans will continue to benefit.
“We hope that they’ll maintain that trade deal. We think it’s really important. We’ve seen the largest corn purchases by China over the course of the past year, large soybean purchases, pork purchases, beef purchases — all of this benefits Iowa. So, we want to see that continue,” she said.
Ernst said in regard to the next COVID-19 stimulus package, she only wants to see inclusions that are directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery, and hopes that the decisions will remain bipartisan, even with Democratic control now in the White House, Senate, and House.
“We have been more than willing to work across the aisle on a lot of these packages, and that’s what we hope we will do in the next package. ... I hope we can meet somewhere in the middle,” she said.
Ernst has also visited Clarke County to speak with employees at Alliant Energy in Osceola and Adair County to thank local law enforcement, EMTs, and firefighters for their service in Greenfield, along with many other stops across the state. On her website, Ernst said her 99 County Tour across Iowa “gives me the opportunity to hear Iowans’ concerns, ideas, and questions firsthand and work to translate that feedback into actions in Washington.”