Joni Ernst

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Joni Ernst
Joni Ernst, official portrait, 116th Congress 2.jpg
Vice Chair of the Senate Republican Conference
Assumed office
January 3, 2019
LeaderMitch McConnell
Preceded byRoy Blunt
United States Senator
from Iowa
Assumed office
January 3, 2015
Serving with Chuck Grassley
Preceded byTom Harkin
Member of the Iowa Senate
from the 12th district
In office
January 5, 2011 – November 28, 2014
Preceded byKim Reynolds
Succeeded byMark Costello
Auditor of Montgomery County
In office
Preceded byConnie Magneson[1]
Succeeded byTed Schoonover[2]
Personal details
Joni Kay Culver

(1970-07-01) July 1, 1970 (age 50)
Red Oak, Iowa, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Gail Ernst
(m. 1992; div. 2019)
EducationIowa State University (BA)
Columbus State University (MPA)
WebsiteSenate website
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Iowa Army National Guard
Years of service1993–2015[5]
RankUS-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant Colonel
Unit185th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion
Battles/warsIraq War

Joni Kay Ernst (née Culver; born July 1, 1970)[6] is an American politician and veteran serving as the junior United States Senator for Iowa since 2015.[7] A Republican, she served in the Iowa State Senate from 2011 to 2014. Ernst is the first female combat veteran elected to the United States Senate.

Ernst served in the Iowa Army National Guard from 1993 to 2015, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.[5] She is the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress. She served a year in Kuwait during the Iraq War.[8][9] She was elected vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference in November 2018.[10]

Ernst has been characterized as a fairly reliable ally of Donald Trump, and was speculated as a possible vice presidential pick during his 2016 campaign.

Early life and career[edit]

Ernst was born Joni Kay Culver in Montgomery County, Iowa, the daughter of Marilyn and Richard Culver. She was valedictorian of her class at Stanton Community School District High School.[11] She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Iowa State University,[12] and a Master of Public Administration degree from Columbus State University.[11][13] In college, she took part in an agricultural exchange to the Soviet Union.[14]

Military career[edit]

Ernst joined Iowa State University's ROTC program at age 20 and the United States Army Reserve after graduating.[4] She served as a logistics officer and attained the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard. In 2003–2004, she spent 12 months in Kuwait as the company commander of the 1168th Transportation Company, during the Iraq War.[13][15][16] Near the end of her career, she served as the commanding officer of the 185th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion at Camp Dodge, the Iowa Army National Guard's largest battalion.[17][18] Upon her retirement from the military in 2015, Ernst had served 23 years in the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard.[5]

Iowa politics[edit]

Ernst was elected Montgomery County Auditor in 2004 and reelected in 2008.[13][19]

Ernst was elected to the Iowa State Senate in a special election in 2011 and reelected in 2012. She represented District 12, which serves the southwest part of the state.[15][16][20][21] Ernst was a member of the Education, Appropriations, Veterans Affairs, Rules and Administration and Health and Human Services committees.[22]

Following her election to the U.S. Senate, Ernst resigned from the Iowa State Senate, effective November 28, 2014.[23]

U.S. Senate[edit]



Ernst speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference

In July 2013, Ernst announced that she would seek the Senate seat held by retiring Democratic Senator Tom Harkin. Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds endorsed her in October 2013.[24] She was also endorsed by 23 current and former state legislators.[25] In March 2014 former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin endorsed Ernst.[26][27] In May 2014, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed her.[28][29][30]

Ernst received widespread attention for a campaign advertisement she released in March 2014 in which she made a tongue-in-cheek comparison between her experience castrating pigs and her ability to cut "pork" in Congress.[31][32] Many found the ad humorous[31][33] and it was spoofed by late-night comedians, including Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert.[34][35][36][37] Before the ad aired, Ernst had struggled to raise money,[38][39] and two polls of the Republican primary taken in February 2014 had shown her in second place, several points behind Mark Jacobs.[40][41] After it aired, a Suffolk University poll in early April showed her with a narrow lead and a Loras College poll showed her essentially tied with Jacobs.[36][42][43][44] By May, she was being described in the media as the "strong front-runner".[28]

Ernst's freshman portrait

In May 2014, Des Moines Register interview, Ernst said she was "extremely offended" by comments Jacobs made characterizing her as AWOL due to missing over 100 votes in the legislative session.[45] Previously, in The Gazette, Ernst cited her National Guard duty to rebuff criticism about her missing votes,[46] but The Gazette found that only 12 of the 117 missed votes came on days when she was on duty. The other 105 missed votes represented 57% of the Iowa Senate votes that session. Ernst's spokesman said she had a better than 90% voting record during her Senate career and that she had never claimed Guard service was the only reason she had missed votes.[46][47]

In endorsing her for the Republican primary nomination, the Des Moines Register wrote: "Ernst is a smart, well-prepared candidate who can wrestle with the details of public policy from a conservative perspective without seeming inflexible."[48] On October 23, Ernst canceled a scheduled meeting with the Des Moines Register's editorial board, citing as a reason the newspaper's negative editorials about her.[49] The newspaper's editorial board endorsed Braley.[50][51]

In July 2014, Ernst's campaigning was temporarily paused while she participated in two weeks of National Guard duty.[52] Also that month, she delivered the Republican Party's weekly address, in which she criticized the health care scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs and called for a balanced federal budget and entitlement reform.[14]

Ernst was endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA).[53] In the 2014 election, Ernst received $17,552,085 in "dark money", which constituted 74% of non-party outside spending in her support.[54]

Ernst won the 2014 Senate race, 52.2% to 43.7%.[55] She is the first woman elected to represent Iowa in either house of Congress.


Ernst is running for reelection in 2020. She was unopposed in the Republican primary and will face Democratic nominee Theresa Greenfield in the November 2020 general election.[56] Less than an hour after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September 2020, Ernst's campaign sent out a fundraising email highlighting the resulting vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court and calling for her supporters to donate in order to "ensure the next Supreme Court nominee is selected by President Trump!".[57]


114th Congress (2015–2017)

Ernst was sworn into the United States Senate on January 3, 2015.[58] She delivered the official Republican response to the State of the Union on January 20.[58][59][60]

Ernst speaking at a campaign event in May 2016

In May 2016, Chris Cilizza put Ernst on his short list of possible vice presidential running mates for Donald Trump to become the 45th President of the United States.[61][62] Other media outlets also mentioned her as a possible benefit to Trump's campaign.[63][64][65] On June 16, Ernst said no one had "reached out" to her and that she was content with this.[66] On July 4, she and Trump met privately.[67] Trump selected Governor Mike Pence of Indiana on July 15.[68]

In 2016, along with U.S. Senators Deb Fischer, Charles Grassley, and Ben Sasse, Ernst introduced "Sarah's Law" in honor of Sarah Root, a 21-year-old female student in Omaha who was killed in a street racing crash in January 2016.[69][70]

115th Congress (2017–2019)

Ernst attending the signing, by President Trump, of the INSPIRE Women Act on Tuesday, February 28, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House

On January 12, 2017, Ernst questioned Secretary of Defense nominee James Mattis on whether he would pledge to prioritize cutting wasteful spending, stopping sexual assault and retaliation in the military, and enhancing national security missions by leveraging the different abilities of "our guard and reserve forces"; Mattis committed to each.[71] Later that month, Ernst announced her intention to introduce legislation that would redirect funding for Planned Parenthood to other women's health care providers and that she already had a bill to overturn an Obama administration policy securing grants from Planned Parenthood to Title X family planning, saying this would be accomplishable with a "pro-life president in the White House and pro-life majorities in the House and Senate".[72] Trump signed the latter bill into law on April 13, 2017.[73]

In early February, Ernst predicted that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos would be confirmed and accused Senate Democrats of trying to obstruct her confirmation out of bitterness over the presidential election results.[74] After DeVos was confirmed, Ernst said she had vetted DeVos, who she found to believe that those physically closest to students knew what was best for them, and would hold her accountable during her tenure.[75]

On March 14, after photographs of nude female soldiers were posted on Facebook, Ernst said that this "type of activity creates a culture that leads to sexual assault."[76] During a March 28 press conference, she asked Congress to pass a law requiring people to immediately report suspected sexual assault at government facilities.[77]

116th Congress (2019–present)

On January 3, 2019, the first day of the 116th United States Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a roster of the Senate Judiciary Committee confirming Ernst and Marsha Blackburn's membership, the first female Republicans on the committee.[78]

In March 2019, after the Special Counsel Investigation concluded and Attorney General William Barr released a summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, Ernst called for a release of the report's full findings: "I strongly believe that as much of the report that can be made public should be—barring any national security threat. Taxpayers have paid millions for this investigation; it's only right that they see its findings."[79]

In September 2020, with less than two months to the next presidential election, Ernst supported an immediate Senate vote on President Trump's nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy caused by the death of justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Previously in March 2016, Ernst had taken the opposite position by declining to consider President Obama's Supreme Court nominee during a presidential election year, instead saying: "In the midst of a critical election, the American people deserve to have a say in this important decision that will impact the course of our country for years to come."[80]

Committee assignments

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (third from left) and Senators Joni Ernst, Daniel Sullivan, John McCain, Tom Cotton, Lindsey Graham, and Cory Gardner attending the 2016 International Institute for Strategic Studies Asia Security Summit in Singapore


Political positions[edit]

During her 2014 campaign, Ernst cast herself as an independent Republican.[81] In 2019, Politico characterized her as "a reliable vote for most of Trump's agenda."[81] As of January 2020, she had voted in line with Trump's position 91.1% of the time.[82]


Ernst opposes legalized abortion.[83] In January 2020, she petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that abortion bans are unconstitutional.[84] Ernst has also introduced legislation to defund Planned Parenthood and other family planning organizations and supported legislation to prohibit all abortions after five months of pregnancy.[85][non-primary source needed]

Ernst voted for a fetal personhood amendment in the Iowa Senate in 2013 and has said that she would support a federal personhood bill.[86]


In March 2019, Ernst was one of 38 senators to sign a letter to United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue warning that dairy farmers "have continued to face market instability and are struggling to survive the fourth year of sustained low prices" and urging his department to "strongly encourage these farmers to consider the Dairy Margin Coverage program."[87]

In April 2019, Ernst and Debbie Stabenow led five other senators in a letter to Perdue urging the Agriculture Department to implement conservation measures in the 2018 Farm Bill "through a department-wide National Water Quality Initiative, which would build off the existing initiative housed at the Natural Resource Conservation Service."[88]

Barack Obama[edit]

In 2014, when asked about President Barack Obama's recess appointments, Ernst called Obama a "dictator" who should be "removed from office" or face "impeachment."[89] She said, "He is running amok. He is not following our Constitution."[89][90]

Also in 2014 Ernst criticized Obama's handling of the Ebola outbreak.[91]

COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

In May 2020, Ernst praised Trump's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying, "Generally, I feel [Trump’s] done a very good job. He was right on it from day one prohibiting travel from certain countries and so forth. I think it was the right thing to do."[92]

In August 2020, when Iowa had the most new infections per capita of any state in the preceding seven days, Ernst repeated a debunked conspiracy theory that the case numbers were greatly inflated and that health care providers might be falsifying them.[93] She later walked back her statements.[94]

Donald Trump[edit]

In 2020, Ernst voted to acquit Trump on both articles of impeachment (abuse of power and obstruction of Congress).[95] She argued that Trump had learned his lesson, and that he would not ask a foreign leader to investigate his rivals again without going through the proper channels.[96][97] At the same time, she suggested that Joe Biden could be impeached if he becomes president over his actions in Ukraine; there is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Biden in regard to Ukraine.[98]

Economy and taxes[edit]

Ernst opposes a federal minimum wage and has said that states should have sole authority to set their minimum wages.[99][100] In response to a Congressional Budget Office report projecting that increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would lift 900,000 people out of poverty but cost 500,000 people their jobs, Ernst said, "government and government-mandated wage increases are not the solution."[101]

Ernst has proposed eliminating the Internal Revenue Service.[102] During the 2013 legislative session, she worked on legislation that reduced property taxes in Iowa.[103] She has said she supports a "fairer, flatter, and simpler" federal tax code.[45] In 2017, she voted for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.[104][81]

In 2014, Ernst expressed support for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget, as well as reduction in spending on entitlement programs and discretionary spending.[45] She has expressed support for partial privatization of Social Security accounts for young workers[28] while protecting Social Security for seniors and those nearing retirement.[105]

In May 2018, Ernst was one of nine Republican senators to introduce a rescission package meant to fulfill President Trump's wish to curb spending by $15.4 billion as part of an attempt to roll out the legislation to ensure it reached the Senate floor within a 45-day window while avoiding a filibuster from Democrats.[106]


Ernst supports eliminating the U.S. Department of Education "not just because it would save taxpayer dollars, but because I do believe our children are better educated when it's coming from the state."[107][dead link][102]

Energy and environment[edit]

Ernst rejects the scientific consensus on climate change and said in 2014, "I don't know the science behind climate change. I can't say one way or another what is the direct impact from whether it's manmade or not." She added that any governmental regulation to address climate change should be "very small."[45][108][109]

Ernst has proposed eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency and criticized its interpretation of the Clean Water Act as applied to farms.[110][102] In a Republican primary debate in May 2014, she said she would have voted against the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill and that the Clean Water Act is damaging to business.[28] Ernst has expressed her opposition to cap-and-trade.[45] She supported Trump's 2017 decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accords.[111]

In June 2018, Ernst said of Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt, "He is about as swampy as you get here in Washington, D.C., and if the president wants to drain the swamp, he needs to take a look at his own Cabinet."[112]

In June 2019, Ernst confirmed she had spoken with Trump and EPA Administrator Andrew R. Wheeler when they were in Council Bluffs about limiting the EPA's issuing of small refinery waivers, saying Trump had kept his promise but that the "EPA has a harmful habit of handing out small refinery waivers like candy—doing so behind closed doors, with no congressional oversight."[113]

Politico described Ernst as a "a strong supporter of the ethanol industry."[114]


Ernst speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland on February 26, 2015

In 2013, Ernst said Congress should not pass laws "that the states would consider nullifying", referring to what she describes as "200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment's states' rights."[115] Courts have consistently ruled that nullification is unconstitutional.[115] During the 2014 general election campaign, Ernst's spokespeople argued that she did not support nullification, and that "her comments on it were about encouraging Iowans to send her to Washington to pass good laws."[116]

Foreign policy[edit]

Ernst speaking about foreign policy at a campaign appearance for U.S. Senator Marco Rubio in Des Moines, Iowa
Ernst speaking to Navy Vice Admiral Michael M. Gilday during an Armed Services Committee hearing in 2019


Ernst opposed the Iran deal negotiated by the Obama administration.[103] In January 2020, she expressed support for the US military's assassination of Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani by drone strike at Baghdad International Airport.[117]


Of the Iraq War and weapons of mass destruction, she said, "We don't know that there were weapons on the ground when we went in. However, I do have reason to believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That was the intelligence that was operated on. I have reason to believe there was weapons of mass destruction. My husband served in Saudi Arabia as an Army Central Command sergeant major for a year and that's a hot-button topic in that area."[45] After criticism from Iowa Democrats and some commentators,[36][118][119] Ernst then issued a statement that she had not meant to suggest that Iraq had WMD at the time of invasion, but rather that Iraq had used WMDs in the past, and that her point was that "we don't know exactly what happened to those weapons."[120]

When asked whether she supports the limited airstrikes conducted in Iraq in August 2014, Ernst said, "What I can say is what I would have supported is leaving additional troops in Iraq longer and perhaps we wouldn't have this situation today."[121]

Korean conflict[edit]

In June 2018, Ernst disagreed with Trump's decision to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea and asked why they were suspended given their legality.[122] In July, she advocated that the United States continue the exercises in case talks between the US and North Korea did not continue.[123]


On February 16, 2017, Ernst condemned Russia's behavior as "totally unacceptable" and said Trump should lead the US to "show strength against Vladimir Putin".[124] In July 2018, Ernst said that she would proceed with caution if the US collaborated with Russia to form "a way we can partner and put a lid on Iran" and that she did not believe "Russia would ever be a true friend or ally to the United States of America." She cited North Korea as an example of a country where the US should cautiously work with leadership to develop "a resolution where the world becomes a safer place" if possible.[125] Following the 2018 Russia-United States summit later that month, Ernst stated her hope that Trump "delivered a strong message behind closed doors that Russia will continue to be punished for their illegal annexation of Ukraine in 2014, their abhorrent support for the murderous Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and their aggressive actions in U.S. domestic policy", adding that she was hopeful Trump had talked with Putin about the role of Russia in the Balkans amid Kosovo's continued threats by the hybrid warfare tactics of Russia in Serbia.[126]

Syrian civil war[edit]

In April 2018, after the missile strikes against Syria by the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, Ernst said that she was "uncomfortable going forward" in the event that Trump wanted to commit more American troops there, saying the US's "effort to fight against ISIS in the region" was the important thing.[127] In December, after Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops in Syria, Ernst was one of six senators to sign a letter expressing concern about the move and their belief "that such action at this time is a premature and costly mistake that not only threatens the safety and security of the United States, but also emboldens ISIS, Bashar al Assad, Iran, and Russia."[128]

In October 2019, Ernst was one of six senators to sign a bipartisan letter to Trump calling on him to "urge Turkey to end their offensive and find a way to a peaceful resolution while supporting our Kurdish partners to ensure regional stability" and arguing that leaving Syria without installing protections for American allies endangered both them and the US.[129]


In March 2018, Ernst voted to table a resolution spearheaded by Bernie Sanders, Chris Murphy, and Mike Lee that would have required Trump to withdraw American troops either in or influencing Yemen within the next 30 days unless they were combating Al-Qaeda.[130] In November 2018, following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Ernst stated that Saudi Arabia was "great strategic partner" but that Congress should consider a legislative response due to the commitment of the United States to human rights and the rule of law. She added that Trump should become involved "if there are indicators coming from those intelligence agencies".[131] In December, Ernst warned that a resolution withdrawing American support for the Saudi Arabia-led intervention in Yemen could complicate peace talks in Yemen and that, although Saudi Arabia should be punished for Khashoggi's death, "those consequences are I see as right now are separate from the discussion of the Saudis and their actions in Yemen engaging the Houthis."[132]

Gun policy[edit]

Ernst supports open carry legislation, which allows guns to be carried openly in public.[45] In February 2013, she co-sponsored a resolution addressing "the Iowa General Assembly's refusal to recognize or support any statutes, presidential directives, or other regulations and proclamations which conflict with the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and which are expressly preempted by the rulings of the United States Supreme Court".[133][134]

In October 2017, Ernst was one of ten Republican senators to sign a letter to acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (ATF) Thomas Brandon requesting that the bureau review an Obama administration decision on bump stocks on the grounds that "this renewed review and determination will keep our citizens safe and ensure that federal law is enforced."[135]

Following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Ernst said that mental illness was the "root cause" of many mass shootings.[136] She was also a cosponsor of the NICS Denial Notification Act,[137] legislation developed in the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that would require federal authorities to inform states within a day if a person failing the National Instant Criminal Background Check System attempted to buy a firearm.[138]

In January 2019, Ernst was one of 31 Republican senators to cosponsor the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, a bill introduced by John Cornyn and Ted Cruz that would grant individuals with concealed carry privileges in their home state the right to exercise this right in any other state with concealed carry laws while concurrently abiding by that state's laws.[139]

Health care[edit]

Ernst opposes the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).[45] She voted for all three versions of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) of 2017 during the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.[140][dead link][141][142]

Ernst endorsed Paul Ryan's partially privatized Medicare model in a 2011 Iowa Senate vote. According to an August 2014 article in The Gazette, she has not laid out a detailed plan for Medicare reform.[143]

The Campaign for Liberty reported that in 2012, Ernst had answered "Yes" on a survey question asking if she would support legislation that would "nullify ObamaCare and authorize state and local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement [it]."[144][145][146]

In August 2018, Ernst was one of ten Republican senators to cosponsor a bill amending federal law to add a guarantee on the availability of health insurance to Americans including those with preexisting conditions regardless of the outcome of a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act filed by Republican-controlled states.[147]


In November 2015, Ernst said the U.S. should halt the immigration of Syrian refugees, calling for a "thorough vetting process", and commenting that President Obama did not have "a clearly communicated and comprehensive strategy".[148]

In June 2018, Ernst, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Patrick Leahy wrote a letter to United States Defense Secretary James Mattis of their being "deeply troubled by the department's decision to send twenty-one active and reserve JAGs to the border on temporary orders to prosecute immigration cases" and expressing the view that dispatching "twenty-one trial counsel from military courtrooms to prosecute immigration cases is an inappropriate misapplication of military personnel" before urging Mattis to maintain the military lawyers within the military justice system.[149]

In July 2018, Ernst was one of 31 Republican senators to submit a resolution endorsing Immigration and Customs Enforcement and opining that its abolition "would allow dangerous criminal aliens, including violent and ruthless members of the MS-13 gang, to remain in communities in the United States."[150]

In January 2019, during the 2018–19 United States federal government shutdown that resulted after Trump demanded $5.7 billion for a border wall, Ernst told reporters that she would "tend to agree that not all areas of our border need a physical barrier" and that the US would not need a barrier in areas "adequately patrolled by Border Patrol agents", with "technology to monitor those areas without having a physical barrier", and if agents could "adequately respond in a timely manner to illegal border crossing".[151]

Internet and technology[edit]

Ernst opposes net neutrality and praised its repeal by the Federal Communications Commission.[152][non-primary source needed] In May 2018, she voted against legislation that would have overturned the FCC's ruling and restored net neutrality.[153]

LGBTQ rights[edit]

In a 2014 debate, Ernst said she believes that gay marriage is largely a state's rights issue, but that if a federal ban on same-sex marriage were proposed, she would support it.[154] She also co-sponsored a bill in the Iowa Senate to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.[28]

In 2017, she announced her opposition to Trump's ban on transgender individuals serving in the armed forces.[155]


In an interview with Time Magazine, Ernst said that she was sexually harassed in the military, saying, "I had comments, passes, things like that" which she was able to stop, and said she will support removing sexual assault cases from the chain of command.[156]

In July 2019, Ernst joined 16 other Republican senators in signing a letter in favor crafting of a new appropriations bill for the Department of Defense rather than relying on a continuing resolution that carried over the Obama administration's priorities. They argued that failing to pass a new appropriations bill would prevent the implementation of Trump's National Defense Strategy, increase costs, and hinder military readiness.[157]

Relationship with Steve King[edit]

Ernst's relationship with Steve King, a House Representative known for his racist rhetoric and support for far-right politicians, has been criticized. In 2016, when King faced a primary challenge for his House seat, Ernst endorsed him, saying he "stands strong for life and liberty."[158][159] In 2017, when King attracted criticism for saying "we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies" and for supporting European far-right politicians, Ernst said she did not condone King's behavior but would not ask for his resignation.[160][161] In 2017, The Des Moines Register wrote a scathing editorial against King, which criticized Ernst for endorsing him in the past and not condemning him.[162][163] In 2018, Ernst appeared with King at a rally in his district after King had endorsed a Canadian politician with neo-Nazi ties.[164]

In 2019, amid extensive criticism of King by Republican politicians after King made controversial remarks about white supremacy, Ernst rebuked him.[165] The New York Times wrote that Ernst's belated distancing from King might harm her 2020 reelection effort, as she previously "had spent years embracing Mr. King."[166] Art Cullen, editor of The Storm Lake Times, criticized the timing of Ernst's response, writing "the hypocrisy is epic and comic."[167] The Des Moines Register's editorial board questioned why it took national condemnation for Ernst to rebuke King.[168] Ernst did not make an endorsement in King's 2020 Republican primary race, which he lost.[169]


In 2018, as Trump imposed tariffs as part of his trade policy and other countries responded in kind, Ernst said she was willing to give him some leeway but worried about the impact on farmers.[170] In May 2019, amid a trade war between the United States and China, Ernst said she did not like tariffs but that the "president's way of negotiating ... brings people to the table."[171] She said that Iowa farmers are "disappointed" but that they recognize "that China is the one that is forcing this."[172]

In January 2018, Ernst was one of 36 Republican senators to sign a letter to Trump requesting he preserve the North American Free Trade Agreement by adapting it for the modern economy.[173] In August 2018, she warned that failure to finish trade deals would "reflect negatively upon our Republican candidates" and advocated for completing NAFTA and continuing to work with the European Union.[174]

In July 2019, Ernst accused Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi of "slow-walking" the passage of a North American trade agreement and said she believed there was enough support in the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate to ratify the agreement: "By and large, Americans think it's a good way to go."[175]

Personal life[edit]

In 1992, Ernst (then Joni Culver) married Gail Ernst.[176] The Ernsts have one daughter, Libby.[3][4] On August 27, 2018, Ernst announced that she and her husband were in the process of obtaining a divorce.[177] In a sworn affidavit, Ernst stated that she had declined then-candidate Trump's offer to be his vice-presidential running mate because Gail "hated any successes [she] had and would belittle [her] and get angry any time [she] would achieve a goal", and that she made "sacrifices ... out of concern for Gail and [their] family."[178] Gail said that he "gave up his aspirations" to support Ernst's pursuit of her political ambitions.[179] The divorce was finalized in January 2019, with Joni Ernst alleging that Gail had verbally and mentally abused her and on one occasion physically assaulted her. The Ernsts accused each other of infidelity; both denied the respective accusations.[180]

In her first interview after her divorce, Ernst revealed that she had been raped in college.[181]

Ernst is a lifetime member of the Montgomery County Republican Women, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2265, Montgomery County Court of Honor, Altrusa, PEO Chapter HB, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association,[182] and member of the Montgomery County Farm Bureau.[21] She is a member of the Mamrelund Lutheran Church (ELCA) of Stanton, Iowa.[13]

On June 13, 2018, Joseph Dierks, of Waterloo, Iowa, was sentenced to six years in prison for threatening "to kill or otherwise harm" Ernst. The sentence, which exceeds sentencing guidelines, was imposed on Dierks for threatening comments he made while awaiting trial.[183]

Electoral history[edit]

Iowa State Senate 12th district election, 2012
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Republican Joni Ernst 22,205 99.06%
Write-ins Write-ins 210 0.93%
U.S. Senate Republican primary election in Iowa, 2014
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Republican Joni Ernst 88,535 56.12%
Republican Sam Clovis 28,418 18.01%
Republican Mark Jacobs 26,523 16.81%
Republican Matt Whitaker 11,884 7.53%
Republican Scott Schaben 2,233 1.42%
Republican Write-ins 155 0.10%
U.S. Senate election in Iowa, 2014
Party Candidate Votes % +%
Republican Joni Ernst 588,575 52.10%
Democratic Bruce Braley 494,370 43.76%
Independent Rick Stewart 26,815 2.37%
Libertarian Douglas Butzier 8,232 0.73%
Term Limits Bob Quast 5,873 0.52%
Independent Ruth Smith 4,724 0.42%
Write-ins Write-ins 1,111 0.10%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "4 Nov 2004, Page 6 - The Des Moines Register at".
  2. ^ Peterson, Mike. "Schoonover named to workforce development post".
  3. ^ a b Hughes, Emer (November 3, 2014). "Gail Ernst, Joni Ernst's Husband: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Heavy. Retrieved September 19, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c Rogin, Ali (July 18, 2016). "Joni Ernst: Everything You Need to Know". ABC News.
  5. ^ a b c Jacobs, Jennifer (December 1, 2015). "Joni Ernst retires from the military". The Des Moines Register. Retrieved December 3, 2015.
  6. ^ Ernst, Gail. "Joni Kay Ernst – Plaza of Heroines at Iowa State University". Retrieved November 5, 2014.
  7. ^ Jacobs, Jennifer (June 3, 2014). "Joni Ernst wins Iowa GOP U.S. Senate race". The Des Moines Register. Archived from the original on June 4, 2014. Retrieved June 4, 2014.
  8. ^ Jacobs, Jennifer (November 4, 2014). "Joni Ernst wins Iowa U.S. Senate seat". Des Moines Register. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  9. ^ "Joni Ernst's Senate victory makes her first woman to represent Iowa in Congress". Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  10. ^ Bolton, Alexander (November 14, 2018). "McConnell reelected as leader, Thune promoted to whip". The Hill. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
  11. ^ a b Ernst, Gail (May 16, 1994). "Joni Kay Ernst". Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  12. ^ "Meet the Candidate: Iowa's U.S. Senate seat: Joni Ernst, Republican". Des Moines Register. Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  13. ^ a b c d "Joni Ernst Announces bid for Kim Reynolds Iowa Senate Seat". The Iowa Republican. November 18, 2010. Archived from the original on January 15, 2015. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
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External links[edit]

Iowa Senate
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Kim Reynolds
Member of the Iowa Senate
from the 12th district

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