Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said Tuesday that she is “extremely disappointed” in the White House’s handling of domestic abuse allegations against former aide Rob Porter, calling on Donald Trump to “send a stronger message” after the president has appeared to side with Porter.
“I’m not sure of the internal workings of the White House and when they found out, what they found out. But I’m extremely disappointed in this situation,” Ernst told CNN. “Abuse is never OK. It is never OK, and so I feel very bad for those women. I am glad that they have come forward.”
Ernst has previously worked with women who have faced abuse and supported bipartisan legislation on domestic violence and sexual misconduct.
After affirming that “we need to send a very clear signal that it won’t be tolerated,” the GOP senator asserted that Trump himself should “send a stronger message.”
“We need to allow women and men that have been abused to come out, make sure their stories are heard and believed,” Ernst said. “I’d like him to come out a little bit stronger on that.”
Trump administration officials have continually put forth conflicting narratives and talking points about the allegations against Porter, who left the White House as staff secretary last week after his two ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby, said that he had punched and choked them.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday stressed that the president “supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly,” and that he “takes the issue of domestic violence very seriously.”
But Trump has made plenty of public statements suggesting otherwise, and Sanders would not affirm whether the president believes the women making the allegations.
On Friday, Trump expressed sympathy for Porter and reiterated that the former aide denied the claims by Holderness and Willoughby. He told reporters that the situation was “very sad” and “a tough time” for Porter, adding that “we wish him well.”
He later tweeted that “lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” and implied that Holderness and Willoughby were liars.
Ernst on Tuesday also emphasized that she believed Holderness and Willoughby, and suggested that it was “possible” Congress could investigate the White House’s handling of the allegations.