Incumbent U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst sat down with Democratic Senate nominee Theresa Greenfield for the Iowa Press U.S. Senate Debate Monday night. Ernst is running for a second term in office after first being elected in 2014.
Iowa remains a crucial battleground for both Democrats and Republicans, said David Yepsen, the host of Iowa Press and one of the three moderators for the debate.
The debate began with the discussion of President Donald Trump’s tax returns. Ernst said she supports the release of Trump’s tax returns but also questions if the information released recently is factual.
“Bottom line, we would love to see lower taxes for everybody, including all of our hard-working Americans," Ernst said. "The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was part of that effort, which gave tax relief to 1 million Iowans.”
Greenfield said she agrees with the release of Trump’s tax returns, but she is tired of the wealthiest and largest corporations receiving the biggest benefits.
“The fact that he only paid $750 in 2016-2017 really reflects how the system doesn’t work for hard-working people and everyday Iowans,” Greenfield said.
Politics reporter,= Caroline Cummings asked Ernst about her stance on electing a new Supreme Court justice. Back in 2016, Ernst voted to hold off on the nomination of a new justice until after the election.
“I’ve been very consistent on this, and in 2016, we followed Vice President Joe Biden’s rule, and that’s what we stood beside,” Ernst said. “The Biden rule says that when there are divided parties, you have a presidency of one party and a Senate majority of another party, you wait. Right now, we do not have a divided government situation, so I feel I have been consistent.”
Cummings said Ernst doubled down on her position about whether the nominee should be held off. She asked Ernst how it’s different this year than it was back in 2016 when she was for the decision to hold off on the nominee. Ernst said it's because Biden has yet to publish a list of potential nominees because he would disappoint far-left voters with a moderate choice.
“Well, the president has made a decision, and as a member of the Judiciary Committee, I will do my duty,” Ernst said. “We will vet the nominee. We know who the nominee is now, and we will move forward with that nominee. Bottom line, what I won’t allow to happen is the radical left to move forward and pack the court.”
Greenfield gave her condolences to the family of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and said she was a leader of the country who fought for equality.
“The rhetoric that comes out of Washington is so divisive, and as I travel this state, Iowans don’t agree with packing the courts," Greenfield said. "I believe it should stay at nine justices for now. It’s our institution and our tradition.”
Ernst said making sure the federal government is providing equal access to health care and ensuring affordability is how she intends to assist Iowans with preexisting conditions. Greenfield said health care is a number one priority.
“I believe health care is a right, and we need to make sure everyone has access to high-quality and affordable health care,” Greenfield said. “The way to do that is to strengthen and enhance the Affordable Care Act, [to] also build in a public option to create competition bringing down those prices and making sure Medicare can negotiate for those prescription drug prices, saving seniors a whole bunch of money [and] also saving taxpayers 500 billion dollars.”
Greenfield said she is pro-choice while Ernst said she is pro-life. Ernst said she is passionate about wanting to educate the public on “life” and said everyone has a right to life. Greenfield responded that she will always stand for women’s health care decisions with the guidance of her doctor.
While some cities have passed mask mandates, Iowa remains to be one of the only states to not require face coverings
“I wear a mask; I think it’s important that essential workers have access to masks," Ernst said. "There was a mask mandate in Des Moines, and when I rolled into town, nobody was wearing a mask. Even under a mask mandate, people won’t follow the guidelines.”
Greenfield said Iowa needs testing, contract tracing and personal protective equipment.
“I think that this pandemic is going to be one of the most consequential events of our lifetime,” Greenfield said. “The health implications, economic implications, and when it comes to wearing a mask I do support a statewide mask mandate. Even the White House task force recommends we have a mandate. Iowans have been disappointed by the leadership from the White House because the guidelines have not been clear; Sen. Ernst hasn’t taken action."
On the topic of justice reform and combating racism in Iowa, Greenfield said Black people and other minorities have been facing discrimination for far too long, and action needs to be taken.
Ernst said she has been blessed to serve in the U.S. Military and work alongside people of all colors and ethnicities, as well as the Justice Act that was blocked by Senate Democrats.
“My opponent has accused our law enforcement officers of being racist,” Ernst said. “Greenfield has stated that our law enforcement system is systemically racist, meaning that our law enforcement officers are racist."
Greenfield said Ernst’s comment was a lie.
“We have systemic racism in all of our systems, including our policing system," Greenfield said. "That is not saying that our police officers are racist. It is time Washington ends this divisive rhetoric. We need to work together as we did in the state to pass the bill for the perfect union where we worked to end racism. We need more racial bias training as well as deescalation training.”
Ernst said the minimum wage was too low but didn’t offer an alternative. Greenfield said her goal was to steadily increase it to $15 an hour because when she was a single parent, raising two children on $7.50 was nearly impossible.
Both candidates spoke about their struggle to pay for college and having to work heavy hours during education.
“It’s time to start investing in education,” Greenfield said. “Students need to be able to refinance their student loans.”
Greenfield leads Ernst by 3 percentage points, according to the Des Moines Register, which is one of most competitive races in the country for the Senate. Yepsen asked both candidates why Iowans should vote for them.
“I got in this race to put Iowans first," Greenfield said. "My skills are exactly what Iowans need. I’m a businesswoman; I’ve worked in small businesses most of my life. Iowans want the divisiveness to end in Washington, and I will stand up to anyone to fight for Iowans.”
Ernst said Iowa is more than a place, it’s who she is.
“I grew up on a farm in small-town Iowa, and I still live a few miles from where I grew up,” Ernst said. “I am fighting for our farmers because I grew up on a farm. I’m fighting for our single moms and working families because I’ve been through those struggles myself. I’m fighting for our veterans because I have put on those boots and fought alongside Iowans. What we can’t do is turn our country over to the radical left.”