Joni Ernst will make history two ways tomorrow when she is sworn in as Iowa’s next U.S. Senator. Both are because of her gender. She will be the first female to represent Iowa in the U.S. Congress, and the first female military veteran to become a senator in the history of the upper chamber. Here’s hoping her accomplishments during the next six years transcend gender.
“I am there to work for Iowa and to work for what I believe is the best path for the United States of America,” Ernst said in a Des Moines Register interview. “I would love for people to give me the benefit of the doubt just as I give others the benefit of the doubt.”
Ernst won the 2014 general election and there’s little reason not to give her the benefit of a doubt. If Iowa progressives were to walk away from Ernst and senior colleague Chuck Grassley, the chances of their issues being heard in Washington would be reduced from slim to none.
Let’s say the slate is clean for Ernst. What are are the expectations?
If Ernst mirrors Chuck Grassley’s constituent services operation that would be a plus. Whether one agrees with Grassley or not, his office is consistently efficient at getting back with a response. When I have visited Grassley’s office in Iowa or in Washington, staff would take an appointment and devote reasonable amounts of time to hear me out. Ernst should do no less.
One of my concerns about Ernst during the campaign was that she is a field grade military officer. Her appointment to the Senate Armed Services Committee is equally concerning. Control of the military should be in the hands of civilian political leadership rather than the cadre of military officers. Ernst recently decided to stay in the National Guard so she begins with a liability. The test for Ernst will be whether she can take the necessary steps to reduce the U.S. military budget. In particular, the nuclear complex budget is bloated, with a plan to modernized weapons that have little practical use on the modern battlefield. Will Ernst be a yes-woman for military expenditure or will she demonstrate thoughtful restraint in cutting the defense budget? We’ll be watching.
Incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has a to-do list that includes forcing approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and approving new sanctions against Iran instead of allowing the diplomatic process begun by the Obama administration to continue. Ernst is expected to support McConnell’s initiatives as a junior senator.
The senate Republican caucus was well disciplined when they were in the minority. They rarely broke ranks until the voting got close. They blocked many Democratic initiatives, something the Democrats will presumably do during the 114th Congress now that the tables are turned. One expects Ernst to keep her nose to the grindstone and a low profile as she gets started in the senate. That includes sticking with Republicans where it matters.
All told, Ernst has an opportunity to distinguish herself. Whether she is able to rise above politics and do so is an open question that soon will be answered.