Senator Joni Ernst held a town hall-style forum at Sinclair Auditorium on the Coe College campus in Cedar Rapids on Friday, March 17 as part of a 99 county tour. An energetic crowd filled the auditorium.
The forum started with a crowd member spontaneously singing “America, the Beautiful” from the balcony, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and an introduction from Coe College President David McInally. The crowd erupted with applause when McInally commended Senator Ernst for being the first woman from Iowa to serve in federal elected office as well as the first female combat veteran to serve in the United States Senate, and even more so when he thanked her for “showing up” at town hall meetings and engaging with her constituents.
Sen. Ernst spoke briefly about her 99 county tour before taking questions from the audience. Those questions ran the gamut, addressing the Affordable Care Act, the environment, military spending, the Trump administration and the opioid epidemic. When asked about whether she agreed with cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and her feelings on climate change Senator Ernst responded, “We know that climate has been changing for thousands of years.” The statement was met by raucous disapproval from the majority of the crowd and a chant of, “Your last term.”
Another question challenged Ernst’s stance on women’s reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood. Ernst responded in part by saying, “Federally-qualified healthcare centers vastly outnumber Planned Parenthoods in Iowa. Planned Parenthood is not the foremost provider of women’s healthcare in the United States, but it is, it is the number one provider of abortions.” Once again the crowd jeered the Senator.
Not every question was a challenge to Ernst; there were people who supported the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and the crowd seemed to unanimously agree with the Senator when she said that she agrees that President Trump should release his tax returns.
Imam Hassan Selim of the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids held a small American flag in his hand while he addressed Senator Ernst. “You have repeated many times to the American people that ISIS exists in all the states and that they will do everything and will use any tools to kill and terrorize the American people. You said they will use guns, knives, trucks, whatever. What prevents you — and that is my question — from saying statements such as, ‘American Muslims exist in all the states and they serve the American people in the military’?” The crowd erupted in cheers at that point, and most gave Selim a standing ovation.
“Nothing has prevented me from saying that because I do believe that we have a country that is welcoming to everyone regardless of race or religion,” Ernst responded. She went on to say, “I do support the Muslim faith,” and cited her time working with Muslims in Kuwait, Iraq and Kosovo during her deployment. Selim and the majority of the crowd did not seem satisfied with the Senator’s response.
As the town hall concluded Senator Ernst talked with a few constituents near the front of the stage. Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker approached Ernst and asked her if she would call for an primary opponent for Steve King, in light of controversial and racist statements King had made recently. Ernst’s response, “That’s for that district,” was disappointing to Walker as were most of Ernst’s answers for the majority of those in attendance.