Joni Ernst among small group rejecting first Biden cabinet nominee

Two hours after President Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst said in a written statement, “As an eternal optimist, I am hopeful we can work together with President Joe Biden, and the first female Vice President, Kamala Harris, in a bipartisan way to deliver for the American people.”

Later the same day, Ernst was among just ten Republicans to oppose the first Biden cabinet nomination considered on the Senate floor.

Avril Haines received support from 48 Democrats and 36 Republicans, including Iowa’s Senator Chuck Grassley, to serve as director of national intelligence. The Republicans who joined Ernst in voting no included some of the most extreme members of the GOP caucus: Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul (click here for the full roll call).

Ernst didn’t release a statement explaining her vote. She and Grassley rarely end up on opposite sides of a Senate floor vote. I’m seeking comment from her staff and will update this post if I receive further information. No one could argue Haines is unqualified; I’ve enclosed below some background on her relevant experience. None of the Republicans who voted against confirming Haines spoke during the Senate debate on her nomination.

Ernst does not serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee, where Haines discussed a range of security issues at a January 19 confirmation hearing. Among other things, Haines promised to examine “foreign influence operations” and to declassify a report on the murder on journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as required under a law the Trump administration flouted. In her prepared remarks, Haines said,

To be effective, the DNI must never shy away from speaking truth to power, even–especially–when doing so may be inconvenient or difficult. To safeguard the integrity of our intelligence community, the DNI must insist that when it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics, ever.

The DNI must prioritize transparency, accountability, analytic rigor–facilitating oversight and diverse thinking, not as afterthoughts, but as strategic imperatives that bolster our work and our institutions. […]

My intention would be to sustain and build on the tremendous work of intelligence professionals by recruiting and retaining diverse talent, promoting innovation in every aspect of our work, and fostering a culture that is ethical, nonpartisan, accountable, and aligned with the values we share as a country. […]

JANUARY 21 UPDATE: Ernst’s staff did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries and haven’t posted any statement on the senator’s official website. However, they did send this comment to Mario Rossi of Channel 5 news.

As a combat veteran and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Ernst has serious concerns over Ms. Haines’ strong support for the disastrous Iran Nuclear Deal, which she believes lacked basic oversight and enforcement and largely benefited Iran. As Senator Ernst has said, she is hopeful to work together with the Biden Administration in a bipartisan way, but that no matter who is serving in the White House, she will remain focused on always putting Iowa’s and America’s interests first.

LATER UPDATE: An Iowan forwarded a more detailed explanation received from Ernst’s office on February 1.

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about the nomination of Avril Haines to serve as the Director of National Intelligence. It is important for me to hear from folks in Iowa on matters such as this.

On November 23, 2020, President Biden formally nominated Avril Haines to serve as the Director of National Intelligence. After receiving the nomination, the Senate Intelligence Committee held Ms. Haines’ confirmation hearing on January 19, 2021. On January 20, 2021, the Senate confirmed her nomination to serve as the Director of National Intelligence.

After fully vetting this nominee, I voted against the confirmation of her nomination. At her confirmation hearing she suggested that the U.S. operation against General Qasem Soleimani was a violation of international law. Ms. Haines is also an outspoken supporter of the Iran nuclear deal. I have stated repeatedly that the loophole-ridden Iran deal would fail to permanently dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. The agreement, negotiated by then-President Obama, lacks basic oversight and enforcement, and allows a dishonest Iran to continue its destabilizing and dangerous activities.

Iran continues to pose a serious threat to our nation as they are allowed to advance their unfettered ballistic missile capacities. I hope that President Biden and Director of National Intelligence Haines, will work with Congress to develop a comprehensive strategy that permanently addresses the threat a nuclear-capable Iran poses to U.S. and international security.

It is vital that each nominee be carefully vetted by the Senate, and I appreciate your input during the course of the confirmation process. Please feel free to contact my office with any additional information, as I always enjoy hearing from Iowans.

Appendix: Remarks by Joe Biden (as prepared) when announcing Haines’ nomination on November 24

As Director of National Intelligence, I nominate Avril Haines, the first woman in this post.

To lead our intelligence community, I did not pick a politician or a political figure.

I picked a professional.

She is eminently qualified: Former Deputy Director of the CIA. Former Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama.

A fierce advocate for telling the truth and levelling it with decision makers.

I know because I’ve worked with her for over a decade. Brilliant. Humble.

Can talk literature and theoretical physics, fixing cars, flying planes, and running a bookstore cafe, in a single conversation — because she’s done all of that.

Above all, if she gets word of a threat coming to our shores — like another pandemic or foreign interference in our elections — she will not stop raising the alarms until the right people take action.

People will be able to take her word, because she always calls it like she sees it.

We are safer with Avril on the watch.

Avril Haines’ remarks (as prepared) at the same press event:

Mr. President-elect and Madame Vice President-elect, I am grateful and — even more so — humbled by the trust you have placed in me for this role. I am especially honored to be standing not only by your side but also alongside some of the most talented and inspiring public servants this country has ever known.

I know, Mr. President-elect and Madame Vice President-elect, that you have selected us not to serve you, but to work on behalf of the American people — to help advance our security, prosperity, and values. That, the call to service in this role, is what makes this nomination such a tremendous honor.

If afforded the opportunity to do so, I will never forget that my role on this team is unique. Rather than that of a policy advisor, I will represent to you, Congress, and the American public, the patriots who comprise our Intelligence Community. Mr. President-elect, you know that I have never shied away from speaking truth to power, and that will be my charge as Director of National Intelligence. We have worked together for a long time, and I accept this nomination knowing that you would never want me to do otherwise — that you value the perspective of the Intelligence Community and that you will do so even when what I have to say may be inconvenient or difficult. I assure you there will be those times.

And, finally, to our intelligence professionals, the work you do — oftentimes under the most austere conditions imaginable — is indispensable. It will become even more complex because you will be critical to helping this administration position itself not only against threats such as cyber attacks, terrorism, and the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons but also those challenges that will define the next generation — from climate change, to pandemics, and corruption.

It would be the honor of a lifetime to be able to work alongside you once again to take on these challenges together.

Top image: Official White House photo of Avril Haines.

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