In the News
Mar 08 2015
Source: Des Moines Register
By Kathie Obradovich
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst's personal office in the Hart Senate Office Building is roughly 8 feet by 12, with just a few treasured mementoes from home.
On the wall next to her teacher-sized desk is a print of the Montgomery County courthouse, where she worked as county auditor before she was elected to the state Senate. A photo of her Iowa Army National Guard battalion hangs on the opposite wall. A bookcase holds her battalion colors, an Iowa Farm Bureau cap and a few more items, tucked behind a round table that seats four if they're friendly.
"I was just down visiting with Chuck Grassley and this is a lot different," Ernst said with a laugh. Grassley, as one of the most senior senators in the nation, has a spacious, two-story office. Ernst said the true freshmen senators, who aren't moving over from the House, likely won't move into permanent space until June.
Iowa's two freshmen congressmen, David Young and Rod Blum, are on the far side of the Capitol building in the Cannon House Office Building. Both have spacious personal offices, although Young jokes the courtyard view from his fifth-floor window reminds him of a prison movie. The hallway outside looks industrial, with pale walls broken up only by the flags outside congressional office doors. Blum's office sports signed basketballs from the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State. (Sorry, Hawkeyes.)
Ernst's space is temporary but decidedly humble, considering the high-profile introduction that Ernst has had to Washington, D.C. Since the election in November, she's taken two overseas foreign-policy trips and delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union.
She's presided over the Senate, including on the day President Barack Obama vetoed the Keystone Pipeline bill. The day I visited, she was one of the few members of Congress not running for president to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC.
She's learning from high-profile mentors, including Sen. John McCain on the Armed Forces Committee. McCain is not popular with some conservative Republicans for his positions on immigration and some social issues, so there's a risk in getting too cozy. But Ernst says when it comes to military issues, she tends to agree with McCain's approach.
"I mean, there are many things we disagree on when it comes to other types of policy but yes, in Armed Services, he is widely respected by leaders around the world. He's very no-nonsense when it comes to our military men and women," Ernst said.
Ernst said she hadn't had to cast many "no" votes yet, noting that the GOP leaders have brought only a few bills to the floor. Later that week, however, she joined Grassley and other conservative Republicans in voting against a "clean" funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security that did not address the president's executive orders on immigration.
She suggested there may be more differences as appropriations issues move forward. "So far, I have agreed with what has been brought forward. We are going to delve into some much tougher issues going forward and yeah, I am going to be in a position where I'm saying no, I think, to some of the other members of our caucus. But that's OK," she said.
She says she's trying not to turn down any Iowans who want to visit her in Washington. There were 39 Iowa groups scheduled to meet with her that week, and "if physically possible" she intended to meet with every one. "The only time it's not physically possible is when I'm presiding in the Senate and I can't leave the chair," she said.
Ernst says meeting with Iowans is a priority and the most fun part of her job so far. "It's one of the things I heard during the campaign," she said, noting she sometimes heard from Iowans who were disappointed that a member of the delegation did not take time to meet with them in D.C.
As I left the offices, I ran into Ernst's next visitors: Des Moines City Council member Christine Hensley, John Cacciatore, Greg Nichols and a few others representing the Iowa Student Loan Commission. Ernst is going to need that bigger office pretty soon, if only to make room for all the Iowans who want to visit.
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