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Sen. Joni Ernst emerges as a major Trump defender during the impeachment trial

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During a town hall in October 2019, Iowa resident Amy Haskins asks Sen. Joni Ernst: “Where is the line?” when it comes to standing up to Trump. Ernst responds, “The president is going to say what the president if going to do…I can’t speak for him.” — CSPAN/video still

Sen. Joni Ernst has proven to be one of President Trump’s leading defenders among the members of the Senate sitting as jury in Trump’s impeachment trial. As the trial has progressed since Tuesday, certain Republican senators have taken on roles as spokespeople, with each focusing on one pro-Trump talking point or set of talking points.

For example, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, has been repeating baseless attacks on the honesty and character of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Purple Heart soldier and director of European affairs for the National Security Council, who testified during the House impeachment hearings.

Ernst, on the other hand, is attacking some of the House impeachment managers and Democrats, claiming they don’t really care about foreign aid to Ukraine. That’s not an issue in the impeachment trial, but many of Trump’s defenders are raising ancillary, and even unrelated, issues as a way of distracting from the reasons Trump was impeached.

Speaking live during NPR’s coverage of the Senate trial on Thursday, NPR reporter Kelsey Snow described watching Ernst during the trial’s dinner break, as she moved from one network TV crew to another repeating the same talking point.

Unsurprisingly, Fox News dedicated an entire story to Ernst’s claims.

What I find very interesting now is that the House Managers are very, very centered on the fact that Russia was invading Ukraine. And military funding to Ukraine,” [Ernst] said during a break from President Trump’s impeachment trial earlier Thursday, reminding reporters that Crimea was invaded in 2014 during the Obama administration.

Ernst told reporters the Obama administration reacted to the invasion by “sending blankets.”

Later on Thursday night, Ernst also tweeted her talking point.

She also retweeting a video from the Senate Republican caucus’ official twitter account of her repeating the point.

It’s worth noting that both the tweet and retweet were posted to Ernst’s official Senate Twitter account, not the account of her 2020 reelection campaign.

Speaking to Iowa reporters during a conference call last week, Ernst dismissed as unimportant a report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office that concluded President Trump broke a federal law when he ordered aid to Ukraine withheld to pressure that country’s government.

“One thing to remember, folks, is that the president did actually provide aid to Ukraine,” Ernst told the reporters. “So, the point is moot, I believe.”

The aid to Ukraine was released after the White House learned a whistleblower had filed a complaint alleging the reason the aid was being withheld was to pressure Ukraine into taking an action that would serve no purpose other than to help Trump in his reelection campaign.

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Asked if the report meant the Senate should call witnesses who can speak about the president’s actions, Ernst said, “So, again, I think the point is moot. So, no I don’t believe that we need to hear from additional witnesses based on that information because he got the aid to Ukraine, and in a way that was specified by Congress. So he did actually follow through on congressional intent. So that in itself, I don’t believe is a qualifier for additional witnesses.”

On Tuesday, Ernst voted against allowing the Senate to call witness or subpoena documents during the trial.


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