U.S. Senator Joni Ernst repeatedly insisted today that she will evaluate any evidence about President Donald Trump's wrongdoing as a "jurist." But in her first conference call with Iowa reporters since mid-September, Ernst didn't sound like a juror with an open mind about the case.
On the contrary, the senator expertly echoed White House talking points, from denouncing a "political show" and unfair process to using Trump's derisive nickname for a key House committee chair.
Ernst convened the October 24 conference call (click here for audio) to highlight other issues: fighting opioid addiction, bringing broadband to under-served rural areas, and promoting trade agreements that would benefit Iowa farmers. But several reporters referenced the impeachment inquiry when they had an opportunity to ask a question. (Ernst's staff control the dialogue on these calls, and as usual, they did not allow me to speak.)
The senator confirmed she has signed on to the resolution offered by Senator Lindsey Graham and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which condemns the House impeachment inquiry. (All but nine Republican senators are co-sponsors.) Ernst explained,
It's important to understand that the actual resolution [from Graham and McConnell] is simply protecting the standard process and making sure that a process is followed. Because what we're seeing in the House is the fact that Democrats have been so heck-bent on making sure that they impeach this president that they're just randomly acting through this inquiry process. It's not open, it's not transparent. We don't have access to the information.
So what we want to ensure is that they are following the standard process that's been laid out in previous impeachments, and that the president is given a fair opportunity. So that's what we're asking for. We're not stating one way or another what is out there on the president's actions . [...]
It's just really right now a political show. And it really is sidelining some of the important issues at hand like the USMCA [trade agreement]. So we have got to get our work done. The House needs to focus on getting things done like the USMCA.
And impeachment, if they're going to go down that road, they need to make sure that they are following standards that have been set, practices that have been set in the past. And the president is not receiving that same courtesy right now.
Responding to a follow-up question about whether she would defend the president's actions toward Ukraine, Ernst said she hadn't seen the information, and "we don't even know what the articles of impeachment are."
I mean, [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi has not indicated what they are trying to do, other than, you know, really go after the president. So again, it's more of a political show over there, than actually getting towards an objective.
Once those articles of impeachment come over, we will serve as jurists. So I will be sitting in the Senate as a member of the jury and I will at that time have the facts presented to me. Not something that Shifty Schiff [House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff] is out there saying to everybody, and you know, making up his own words and his own transcript. It will be the actual facts that they have to present to the Senate. Not this horrible show that they have in the House.
So for right now, I am a potential jurist. And when the facts come forward, I will evaluate the facts, not a bunch of political talk coming out of the House of Representatives.
Asked about House Republicans, including Iowa's own Representative Steve King, crashing a closed hearing in a secure facility on October 23, Ernst said sharing information "is an important part of the process." She added, "I won’t say that ordering pizza maybe in the SCIF [Secure Compartmented Information Facility] is the right thing, but I do think that including other people outside of one party is an important part of this. You know, we need to be transparent."
The format of the senator's conference calls makes it impossible to interject, so no reporter was able to point out that 1) House Democrats are following chamber rules enacted by a Republican majority in 2015, and 2) more than 40 Republicans who serve on the relevant House committees are able to attend and participate in the closed hearings.
Does Ernst have more concerns about the president's actions than she did a week or a month ago, in light of acting Ambassador William Taylor's testimony?
Well, again, I think that having the information come out, I think it'll be very helpful. This is, this is one witness so far. So as I read through the transcript of the call, of course, I didn't see an impeachable offense there. We will need to hear from additional witnesses.
Notice how Ernst shifted gears from Taylor's devastating, well-documented account to the summary of Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky. I was not able to ask about specific events Taylor recounted as a participant or firsthand observer.
It's unclear whether the senator read Taylor's opening statement or the whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment inquiry. Iowans are also still in the dark about whether Ernst thinks it's appropriate for a president to ask a foreign power to investigate his political rival, or withhold Congressionally approved military aid--which Ernst championed--seeking political assistance.