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Political Mercury

What’s Joni Ernst thinking about President Trump these days?


Iowa senator talks corn, trade, foreign policy and the draft

Chad Wuebker, site manager for Syngenta in Jefferson, gives a tour to U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, on Tuesday.

Chad Wuebker, site manager for Syngenta in Jefferson, gives a tour to U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, on Tuesday.

In a 1981 movie partially set in Dubuque frustrated brewery workers had a message: “Take this job and shove it!”

The Johnny Paycheck song served as the title of that folksy film, and today, those words sum up what some Mexican leaders have to say about a real-life Iowa product, one more precious than beer: corn.

Reacting to policy pronouncements and political provocations from President Trump, legislators in Mexico are pressing for a boycott of U.S. corn.

“I am concerned,” U.S. Sen Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said in an interview with this newspaper. “It would be horrible. It would be horrible.”

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The majority of corn exported from Iowa goes to Mexico, Ernst said.

“I think that we need to work very hard to make sure that threat never comes to reality,” Ernst said.

The challenge to the Hawkeye State’s foundational crop never emerged during recent Administrations, both Democrat and Republican. Why is Mexico using it now?

“I think because President Trump has emphasized ‘America First’ and making sure that immigration is legal immigration,” Ernst said. “So, of course, Mexico takes a little bit of offense to that.”

Is Ernst concerned President Trump isn’t finessing the issue of corn exports to Mexico or being diplomatic enough with that nation, that Iowa could pay the price for the president’s bellicosity?

“Of course we can’t speak for President Trump, but I would say he’s very up front with his thoughts,” Ernst said. “But we also have a very good secretary of state who has dealt with a number of countries around the globe and has done quite well, and I think between Rex Tillerson, and when we get our new trade rep in place, I think they will be the ones kind of finessing those issues with other countries.”

On balance, Ernst said the North American Free Trade Agreement, one of Trump’s sticking points with Mexico, has boosted Iowa’s economy.

“It has been very good for Iowa,” Ernst said. “I hear that from a lot of folks who are engaged in commodity type organizations, whether it is the Iowa corn growers or so forth.”

One in five jobs is tied to trade in Iowa, a net exporting state, Ernst said.

As tax overhaul discussions take center stage, Ernst said the president should release his tax returns, but she believes such a decision should remain voluntary, not an action forced by Congress.

“I’d like him to voluntarily do it,” Ernst said.

She has not spoken to the president directly about the tax-return matter.

Does Ernst trust President Trump on handling North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling?

“I do. I do,” Ernst said. “I think his stance has gotten the Chinese more engaged. I think that he’s done the right thing. And I actually think he’s been playing it pretty smart by pushing back on China and getting them to engage with North Korea.”

Ernst said she is not sure about the wisdom of using unpredictability as a foreign-affairs tactic or even central operating principle.

“I don’t know about being unpredictable, but I think it’s an interesting dynamic because what I think it does indicate to other countries is that you cannot underestimate President Trump,” Ernst said. “And I think he does have a very steadying influence if you look at our secretary of defense, you have an amazing general who is now retired in that role in Jim Mattis. He is a very wise man.”

On another military matter, Ernst, the first female combat veteran in the U.S. Senate, says the requirement to register for the draft should be extended to women.

“It’s not something that I have been pushing for,” Ernst said. “But I do think women should have some skin in the game, too. We’re all Americans. I think if we’re requiring men to do it, I think at this point, since combat arms have been opened up to women, all fields are available for women, again, I think we’re all Americans and we should all sign up.”

Ernst stressed that the U.S. military is an all-volunteer service, and she hopes the draft is never used.

“We have men and women that step up every day to serve voluntarily,” Ernst said.

With the type of warfare the United States is waging in the modern era, it’s less likely the nation will impose the draft, Ernst said. ♦

burns doug 12-10-25Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.


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