Ernst: U.S. needs to lead fight against ISIS

Source: The Daily Nonpareil

By Tim Johnson

GLENWOOD – Sen. Joni Ernst told several dozen citizens here Thursday that the United States needs to take the lead in the fight against ISIS.

Tuesday’s terror attacks in Brussels, Belgium show that the terrorist group is not being contained, she said during a town meeting at Glenwood City Hall before ending her day on a lighter note, speaking to children at the Council Bluffs Boys and Girls Club.

The two visits to western Iowa were part of her annual 99-county tour of Iowa, a tradition started by the state’s longest-tenured representative in Congress, Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Ernst said the U.S. has allies who would be willing to step up and support the effort.

The Obama Administration should push for congressional authorization to use military force against ISIS, she said. The U.S. needs to provide leadership, pull allies together and develop a strategic plan to defeat ISIS.

“We really need to put our money where our mouth is and eradicate ISIS – not contain it, not degrade it,” she said.

Asked what the U.S. could do in the short term to address the genocide ISIS is committing against Christians and other religious groups, Ernst said the U.S. and its allies could capture Raqqa, Syria.

“That’s their headquarters,” she said. “That’s where their leaders are located. Our military, if we were given the go-ahead, we could take Raqqa – and our allies would be glad to stand with us.”

Ernst said there are “ISIS contingents” in all 50 states in this country, too.

“That means we have people right here in Iowa who have sworn allegiance to ISIS,” she said.

The U.S. still needs to be careful about taking refugees from Syria, Ernst said.

“Not everyone is able to be thoroughly vetted,” she said. “If we can’t take those people and thoroughly vet them, we should support the countries that are taking them.”

Ernst said the U.S. needs to build up and modernize its Armed Forces.

At a readiness hearing a couple weeks ago, military leaders told the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which Ernst is a member, that combat commanders have only 91 percent of the equipment and supplies they need. In addition, American personnel are stretched too thin.

“Our soldiers are deployed to over 140 countries around the world right now,” she said. “If we would have something happen with North Korea, if we would have a (confrontation) with Russia, we could not handle it.”

In response to questions from the public, Ernst said she would leave it to the Senate Judiciary Committee to decide whether to hold any hearings on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland before the next president takes office.

The court can still function with an even number of justices, she said, and a tie vote on a case simply means the ruling of the lower court stands.

The number of justices on the court is set by Congress, not the Constitution, and the court previously had only six justices.

Asked whether she would support Donald Trump, if he became the Republican Party’s nominee for president, Ernst said, “I will support whoever our nominee is. I think it is that important that we unify our party ... and work on issues important to the American people.”

Several people asked questions about the Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

“When we have issues at the local level, we can’t get them fixed without going to your office or Senator Grassley’s office,” one woman said.

When one office has a backlog, claims are sometimes shifted to another service area, Ernst said. In addition, if a claim is denied, getting a ruling on an appeal can take years.

“What we’re doing is not working,” she agreed.

On an issue that could affect family grocery bills, as well as Iowa agribusinesses, Ernst said Vermont has passed a law to require special labeling for products that contain genetically modified organisms. If other states followed suit, it could force companies to label products going to different states differently, adding to the cost of packaging – and purchasing – the goods.

A proposal introduced in the Senate Agriculture Committee called for voluntary labeling standards that would have pre-empted guidelines passed by individual states, she said. It was approved by the committee but not by the full Senate.

“GMOs are safe,” Ernst said. “There is nothing to say out there that they aren’t.”