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Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa On Venezuela, “Sarah’s Law,” And “Going Big”

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Iowa’s Senator Joni Ernst joined me this morning:




HH: Joined now by United States Senator Joni Ernst of the great state of Iowa. Good morning, Senator.

JE: Oh, good morning. It’s great to be with you today.

HH: You know, it’s got to be cold in Iowa. I know you’re in D.C., but it’s got to be cold in Iowa right now.

JE: Yes, it has been very, very cold, negative temperatures, and slap that wind chill on, and boy, it’s been brutal. I head back to Iowa today, so just ready to have my winter coat at the ready.

HH: Before I turn to the Senate Armed Services Committee work and Venezuela, I am curious about your farmers in Iowa and the tariff impact on them from China and your optimism about whether or not a deal will be reached that allows the goods and services of hard-working Iowa farmers to start to flow again around the globe.

JE: Well, it has been very difficult for our farmers and ranchers, not just in Iowa but all across the United States with the various tariffs and actions taken by China and by the United States and others as well. But we do see some progress moving ahead with the discussions with China between the trade rep and the Chinese delegation. I know they’ve been working diligently. China did agree to buy more soy beans, and so that has been helpful just in recent weeks. But we just need to get these trade deals done. But we want a really good deal for the United States. There’s a lot of nefarious types of actions that China needs to clean up on, and I know we’re working hard at that. I’ve got a call later today with Ambassador Lighthizer to just discuss this situation and see how we can push forward.

HH: Now let me turn to the Armed Services Committee. I just had Ambassador John Bolton on. He said all options are on the table. He would prefer Maduro simply to leave and the military to switch. He’s afraid of the Cubans who are there and what could happen tomorrow during the demonstrations. I asked him and he declined to state whether or not a 5,000, remember, his yellow pad said 5,000 troops to Colombia. That’s an Army combat brigade, isn’t it?

JE: Well, it is. Yes, it certainly is.

HH: Has the Armed Services Committee been informed is one is on the move or directed to be prepared to move, or already in Colombia?

JE: I have not been informed of that. And so if that is a discussion that’s being held, it has not been brought to the Armed Services Committee here in the Senate. If it has been brought, it likely would go to the chairman, Jim Inhofe. But I have not been informed of that.

HH: Is there an obligation of the executive to inform the legislature if they’re about to commit…I think the War Powers Act is unconstitutional, but is there at least an understanding that such a move would be foreshadowed for people like you who are on the committee of jurisdiction?

JE: Well, absolutely. We should be informed of those types of measures. Of course, the President can do as he wants. We’ve seen that in Syria where he took strikes against those that were perpetrating chemical attacks against the citizens of Syria. We understand that, but then there is an obligation to report back to Congress after that has happened. They must report back within 24 hours. But this is a little different situation. If we’re moving an entire brigade to an area where we are currently not, if they do expect military action, then we do need to be informed. And we need to be part of that discussion.

HH: Do you expect military action’s going to have to happen to get rid of Maduro? He’s killed 40 people this week. He’s breaking in doors. He’s got Cuban killers with him. Do you think we’re going to have to use military force?

JE: Well, I certainly hope not. And military force, especially on the part of the United States, should only be used, of course, when U.S. citizens or our national security interests are jeopardized and there are no other options. I don’t know that we are at that point, yet. So I would love to hear the intelligence on this. I do understand, of course, the Cubans, there’s Russian interference. You name it, they’ve got it. But we need to have some very hard discussions about what are our national security interests in that region, do we need to engage? I have not heard a convincing argument, yet.

HH: All right, let’s talk now about your Homeland Security work. You are reintroducing for the third year in a row, I believe today, Sarah’s Law. Am I correct about that? And what is it?

JE: Yes. We did reintroduce it yesterday. Yesterday marked the third anniversary of the tragic killing of one of my constituents, Sarah Root. She was killed by a drunk driver who was in our country illegally. And so what the bill does is it requires that ICE and the law officials, the law enforcement officials, detain someone who is here in the country illegally and has hurt or killed another person. It seems common sense. In Sarah’s case, she was injured by this drunk driver in the country illegally, and right before she had passed away, the young man was able to bond out. ICE decided not to detain him. And he bonded out, and he has not been seen in three years. So her family has never seen justice.

HH: I’m kind of astonished that that happened. I don’t, I’m astonished that we need a law to say don’t do that.

JE: Well, isn’t it ridiculous?

HH: Well, yeah. And it’s appalling in addition to that. Do sanctuary cities release violent crime, the accused of violent crime, he wasn’t convicted, obviously, but if he flees, that’s a good admission against interest in the eyes of the law. Do sanctuary cities require felons and people accused of violent crime like a DUI death, do they require people to be kept in custody?

JE: No, it’s not a requirement, not at the current time, or it wasn’t in law. So for the case of Sarah’s case, she wasn’t dead, yet. Just hard fact, she wasn’t dead, yet, but she was lying in a hospital bed taking her last breath while this man was bonding out. The law didn’t require him to be held. And ICE had discretion, and that was the problem, is that they had discretion, and they decided uh, you know, we don’t need to keep him. They let him go. He took off.

HH: Wow.

JE: So…

HH: All right, so good luck with that law.

JE: Yes.

HH: Let me turn to the negotiation underway. You’re on Homeland Security and Armed Services. You’re concerned with the border. The Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, tweeted not long ago that the Reyes Cartel is just sending in all sorts of people. He retweeted Brandon Darby writing out that the Reyes Cartel brings groups of migrants over, and the Governor of Texas said almost every day, cartels exploit our porous borders and inadequate laws.

JE: Right.

HH: To smuggle in people, they often exploit for money and sex. It’s why Texas has deployed the national guard and law enforcement to the border. But it’s not enough until the federal government fully secures the border. Now do you expect this committee of 17 to produce a deal?

JE: I expect them to produce a deal. I think all American people expect them to do that. What we need to do is put pressure on the leaders. I fully expect that the folks on the committee, the conference committee, will work diligently to find a solution. But what we expect of their leadership is to allow them to come to an agreement that can be presented to Congress and to President Trump. Right now, we’re not seeing a lot of leeway given by the Democratic leadership. They are very insistent upon no money for a wall. Well, I’m sorry folks, we have granted that opportunity and that spending to the last four administrations. Why not President Trump? We need to secure our nation. We know that. They know that. They need to get over that and start working, you know, in putting forth a good effort so that we can do the right thing for the American people.

HH: If they do not reach an agreement, I’ll come back to that, and the President uses a declaration of emergency, some are opposed to that, because they consider it unconstitutional. I’ve looked at the law. It’s not, actually. It’s not a Youngstown Sheet and Tube sort of situation there. There’s a law on the books that has been used repeatedly in the past. Would you support the President using a national declaration in the event that no deal emerges?

JE: Well, let me start by saying I hope it does not come to that. I hope it does not come to that. But I would support him. I don’t believe it’s unconstitutional. I don’t believe that. I’m not a lawyer, so you know, take it for what it’s worth. But what I do fear is that it would set a precedent, because the parties don’t agree that this is national emergency. It would have to come to Congress, and we would have to vote on it. So there are some complications that go along with that. We know that it will be challenged in the courts, and then I fear that the President won’t receive any funding for a very long time for border security. And I think it just throws another hitch, and actually for us trying to achieve our goal of erecting barriers and placing technology and additional border agents along our southern border. So, and, you know, one of the spin-offs that we have talked about is the fact that if we declare a national emergency, the other party doesn’t agree. What’s to stop them in the future from declaring climate change as a national emergency.

HH: There is no preexisting law. I mean, the argument is that he’s got the authority, but there is no authority for that.

JE: Yeah.

HH: But very quickly, Senator Graham wants to have the debt limit and the repeal of the sequester. He wants to go big, make the deal very big. I’ve written in the Washington Post the same way. Do you want to go big if it’s necessary to get it done, Senator Ernst?

JE: Well, I think if we can get it done, and that’s the pathway to getting it done, then we do it. If it’s not the pathway, then we’ll find another way.

HH: Senator Joni Ernst, always a pleasure. Good luck with Sarah’s Law. It sounds urgently necessary. I can’t even believe that it is, but it sounds like it must be. Do not miss the next segment. Thank you, Senator Ernst?

End of interview.


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