HH: Joined now by United States Senator Joni Ernst on international women’s day. Senator Ernst, welcome, it’s great to talk to you.
JE: Oh, thanks so much. It’s great to be on this morning.
HH: I’ve got a bunch of stuff to cover with you, but I want to start with tariffs. Iowa is going to get hit by this, because you’re an export state when it comes to agricultural products. What’s your reaction to the tariff?
JE: Well, sometimes we do feel like a country, but you know, I am very, very concerned about the tariff policy that we see coming out right now, because we do export so much of our commodities, our soy beans, our corn, beef, pork. So much of that does go overseas. And the tariffs will have an impact, because we’ll see retaliation coming our way.
HH: Yeah, it’s going to be announced later today by Juncker, the fellow who runs the EU, and it’s going to be a long list. I don’t know if, he’s going after orange juice and cranberries, according to the New York Times, but that’s just going to get longer. Have you had a chance to talk to the President about it, yet?
JE: Well, I have been placing calls over to the White House. I was able to visit with some folks in the Vice President’s office last night. So I have not been able to speak directly to the President. I think there’s a lot of calls going to him right now from a number of congressmen, senators, that are displeased about the policy. This needs to be well thought through, and I think it just came out of the blue. And again, I think retaliation, especially against states like Iowa, is going to be very, very heavy. It’ll be heavy-handed.
HH: Now Senator, because I lived in Orange County, California until I moved back to Virginia a couple of years ago, I know Peter Navarro very, very well. He’s an affable, very, very charming fellow. He’s a hard left guy who ran for mayor…
HH: …county commissioner and congress as a Democrat. He is not a trade expert. He wrote a couple of crazy, you know, Death By China books, and he’s just not one of us. Why is he making trade policy in this White House?
JE: Well, Hugh, I think you have hit the nail on the head. We need somebody out there that understands that we operate in a global economy. And we want free and fair trade. We understand that. But just because you’re slapping tariffs on steel doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be repercussions in other areas. We export a lot of our soy beans to China, and we know that China is a bad actor. But there is a delicate balance out there, and we need to have thorough negotiations. We haven’t gone through that process.
HH: Now let me switch to a second subject. You’re on Homeland Security. I’m watching The Looming Tower. It’s probably the most influential book in my life in the last 17, 18 years. Did you ever read it, Senator?
JE: I have not read it. I have not.
HH: Well, watch the Hulu show with Jeff Daniels. It’s a great recreation of this.
HH: But it reminds us that the jihadi movement is not over, and in fact, I saw in the New York Times today the President is looking, and the Senate is looking at the Qualcomm deal being bought by Broadcom, which was in turn bought by a Chinese concern. Are you concerned that China is buying our technology so that we will not have a secure technological grid here?
JE: Well, I am concerned that China is not only buying our technology, but that they are stealing our intellectual property as well. So I think they are hitting from all fronts. And if you look at their one belt, one road initiative, they are trying to expand their influence not just in the Pacific region, but all around the world. And whatever they can do to undercut other competitors, they are certainly going to do, and they’re not shy about it. They let us know that that is their intent, is to influence other regions in all aspects of our economy.
HH: So you think that Qualcomm deal ought to be vetoed by the Foreign Investment Committee?
JE: Well, I think that it needs to be looked at very carefully and heavily scrutinized. And we need to understand what our opportunities are with that, whether it can be rejected or some other measure. But we need to be very, very careful about what we’re engaging China in.
HH: Now Senator, as a combat veteran, are you still active reservist, by the way, Senator?
JE: I retired the fall of 2015.
HH: All right, I won’t call you Colonel anymore, then. But you know your guns. And Florida passed a gun control law yesterday, it’s going to the Governor today, that raises the minimum age to 21. My guess is Joni Ernst had a gun in her hand before 21, right?
JE: Yes, I did.
HH: And so what do you make of the Florida gun bill, which has a three day waiting period, but also provides for more guards at schools, more mental health officials at schools, and for the possibility of arming appropriately trained individuals at the schools?
JE: Well, I do think school security should be at the forefront. That is, that’s probably the simplest measure that can be put in place to protect our students and our children. Certainly, when you’re raising the age, limiting who you will sell to simply because of age, I worry that there is a demographic out there of law abiding citizens 18 years of age and older, they are adults, that are having their 2nd Amendment rights infringed upon by certain stores or individuals. Now that hasn’t been vetted, obviously, through the court system. We’ll see how that goes. But mental health is very important as well. So I’m glad to see that aspects are being considered there. There are so many things that we can do to safeguard our children, but what we don’t want to do is eliminate groups of people from owning their own firearms simply without going through due process. So a lot of very strong feelings out there. Let’s keep our children safe. But there are very simple measures where we can do that.
HH: Let’s turn to the assassination of a Russian spy, or an attempted assassination of a Russian defector.
HH: You’re on Homeland Security, again. You remember Alger Hiss, right?
JE: Well, and I’m not on Homeland Security anymore, but I still serve on Armed Services.
HH: Oh, okay, Armed Services.
JE: So, yes.
HH: Do you recall that Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy?
JE: Yes, yes.
HH: Okay, we’ve got bunch of Soviet spies, but no one ever tried to kill him once we found him out. But now Putin apparently sends these, what do you make of this? This is crazy.
JE: Well, Putin is not our friend, and this is the simplest phrase I have ever said, and I recite it many times over every week, is that Russia is not our friend. And understanding how nefarious Vladimir Putin is and what he will do to try and control people, get after people, he knows no boundaries. So again, he is somebody that we need to keep our eye on and make sure that we’re protecting United States interests when it comes to Russia.
HH: Last question. My friend, Rick Grenell, has been nominated to be the ambassador to Germany.
HH: As have 137 other fine Americans who have volunteered to serve, and they can’t get through the Senate, specifically Rick Grenell, generally the other 137. What is wrong with your body?
JE: Well, that is a great question, Hugh, and we have been discussing this and discussing it and discussing it. But you know, finally, I think James Lankford, dear friend, Senator from Oklahoma, has a plan to work nominations through with a much shortened period of debate time allowed for each. Now holds are a different issue, and I do believe that Mr. Grenell is probably being held.
HH: That’s what Lindsey Graham told me. Do you have any idea who’s got the hold on him?
JE: Well, no, because, and that’s another issue, is that senators don’t have to, they can put a hold out there, but then the leadership doesn’t have to disclose who is holding a nominee. So I think that’s very unfortunate. If we have issues with people, we should be okay coming forward and saying you know what? I don’t like the way you think. I’m going to put a hold on you. To do it behind doors is not the best way to do it.
HH: Now Lindsey told me…Senator Graham told me you can smoke that out by bringing the name to the floor. Is that correct?
JE: You can. I mean, if you want to bring it up and try and do a unanimous consent on the floor of the Senate, then it would be up to someone to actually come down to the floor and voice their concerns. And if nobody does that, then it moves forward for debate.
HH: So if he, if the 30 hours they insist on, but if the Leader put Grenell up for 30 hours and then moved up to vote on unanimous consent, we would find out who the hold was?
JE: We certainly would.
HH: Would you recommend to the Leader that he do that?
JE: You know, I think when we are looking at very important confirmations, I think that we should do the 30 hours. And then people are like well, we’re burning so much floor time. But understanding, you know what, we don’t have to work just 9 to 5.
JE: Yes, we have done this before. So many of us in our 2014 class, Republicans that came in, we have insisted upon keeping the floor open, debating through the night. I’ve pulled a lot of 3-4AM shifts in the presiding officer’s chair. I don’t mind doing that.
HH: And how many farmers in Iowa work a Senate work week?
JE: (laughing) They work long, long hours. And so I think that we should do the same thing here.
HH: Well, I hope you’ll go the Leader and get Rick down to the floor and go through the 30 hours. Let’s smoke it out and figure out who is holding him and why, and maybe they’ll melt away once that’s done.
JE: You bet.
HH: Senator Joni Ernst…
HH: …always a pleasure to talk to you.
End of interview.