WASHINGTON -- Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) delivered the Republican Party’s official response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in camouflage heels, to remind those watching that she’s the Senate’s only female combat veteran.
“I’d like to have a conversation about the new Republican Congress you just elected, and how we plan to make Washington focus on your concerns again,” she said. “We heard the message you sent in November -- loud and clear. And now we’re getting to work to change the direction Washington has been taking our country.”
Though Democrats pointed to Ernst’s conservative policy stances in an attempt to rebut her campaign’s folksy profile leading up to November’s midterm election, the former state legislator beat her opponent, former Rep. Bruce Braley, by more than 8 percentage points. She became the first woman ever elected to Congress from Iowa.
On Tuesday, she drew upon aspects of her personal story to make the case for the GOP’s economic sensitivity, saying that growing up in southwestern Iowa, she personally felt “the sting of the economy and the frustration with Washington’s dysfunction.”
“As a young girl, I plowed the fields of our family farm. I worked construction with my dad. To save for college, I worked the morning biscuit line at Hardees,” she said, recounting an anecdote about wearing plastic bags over her shoes to protect them on rainy school days.
While Obama touted the nation’s low unemployment rate of 5.6 percent and offered a variety of proposals to help the middle class, Ernst gave a different take on the nation’s gradual economic recovery.
“We see our neighbors agonize over stagnant wages and lost jobs,” she said. “We see the hurt caused by canceled healthcare plans and higher monthly insurance bills. We see too many moms and dads put their own dreams on hold while growing more fearful about the kind of future they’ll be able to leave to their children. Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare. It’s a mindset that gave us political talking points, not serious solutions.”
Ernt delivered her speech using slightly more combative rhetoric than the address given last year by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). Then, the high-ranking congresswoman pledged that the party was “working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform” and didn’t explicitly mention the GOP’s repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Ernst, in contrast, challenged Obama to develop “a comprehensive plan” to defeat terrorists, after the president argued in his address that America was on the way to stopping the Islamic State militant group’s advance. The newly elected senator said the GOP would “keep fighting to repeal and replace” the health care law. And though Obama said Tuesday that “the shadow of crisis has passed,” Ernst painted a much different picture of the various conflicts the United States is engaged in around the world.
"You’ll see a lot of serious work in this new Congress," she said. "Some of it will occur where I stand tonight, in the Armed Services Committee room. This is where I’ll join committee colleagues -- Republicans and Democrats -- to discuss ways to support our exceptional military and its mission. This is where we’ll debate strategies to confront terrorism and the threats posed by Al Qaeda, ISIL, and those radicalized by them. We know threats like these can’t just be wished away."
Ernst also called on Obama to “tear down trade barriers,” approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and “simplify America’s outdated and loophole-ridden tax code” as she listed the new Republican-controlled Congress’ areas where the GOP believed it could find common ground with the president in his last two years in office.