Joni-Ernst-Hart-Senate-Building(Washington, DC) U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) met with Caffeinated Thoughts at her cramped temporary office in the Hart Senate Office Building for an exclusive interview.

Ernst discussed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to put forth a “clean” appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security instead of tying it to defunding President Obama’s executive amnesty (the Senate voted to debate it 98-2 later in the day).

“First I think we need to stop President Obama’s overreach when it comes to executive amnesty.  I also see the need to make sure that we are protecting our homeland.  As a solider and someone who sits on both Homeland Security and Armed Services I think protecting American lives are of the upmost importance. I would love to see debate on the bill that was sent over from the House and certainly I would support that bill.  Right now we are having trouble getting that bill to the floor for a vote thanks to our Democratic colleagues.”

Caffeinated Thoughts asked her thoughts on the move to reauthorize No Child Left Behind.

“I’ve said this for many years, I believe standards need to be set at the state and/or local level.  I believe that we need to be empowering our parents.  We need to be empowering our school administrators, not stripping away what they believe is best for their own children.  I don’t think those guidelines should be coming from the federal government.  While I’m anxious to see what actually comes out of the House and what is produced here through the process in the Senate.  I do want to delve into that legislation to make sure that we are sending more of the power down to the local level.  I think that is going to be important.”

We discussed President Obama’s veto of the Keystone Pipeline bill that she co-sponsored.

“We will try to vote on the Keystone Pipeline again and this would be an override vote to support the Keystone and override the President’s veto.  At this point I don’t believe we have enough votes to override the President.  I was sitting in the chair yesterday presiding over the Senate when the veto message came through from the President and I was disappointed.  The President has said on numerous occasions that he wants to find ways to work together, to work on projects with us.  However, he’s vetoing, and stating that he will veto legislation, before he even actually sees the legislation.”

Ernst also told Caffeinated Thoughts that she hopes to avoid a government shutdown.

“I hope we can find a way to resolve this.  Again I would like the opportunity to see a bill that comes forward which will override President Obama’s executive amnesty, but I have to temper with I believe we need to be safe guarding Americans too.  So doing that in a way when we can overcome the executive amnesty, but make sure we are funding the Department of Homeland Security is very important.  We’ve seen the threat in the past week with various groups such as ISIS saying ‘attack American malls.’  They are stepping up their game, we can’t be letting down our guard.”

Ernst discussed lessons learned so far being in the Senate a little less than two months.

“Make sure you have plenty of energy because we do have a lot of meetings.  And one thing that I love and is actually surprising is the number of Iowans that take the time out of their busy schedule to come to Washington, DC to talk about topics that are very important to them.  And so if physically possible I am going to see all of these Iowans when they come to Washington, DC.  I am excited about that, it has been a wonderful experience so far.  We have a lot of very significant challenges at the Federal level, but that challenge is why I am here.”

Ernst discussed some long-term goals for her first term.

“Rules and regulations reform is one that I talked a lot about, but now it is time for action.  So I just came out of a hearing this morning where we were talking about regulatory reform and the processes and how we become much more efficient and we are not putting the burden, as I said this morning, on our Iowan small business owners, ranchers, farmers and every-day individuals and making sure what we are doing makes sense, that’s important.  So regulatory reform on how we do business, working continually on Obamacare and some of the issues out there.  We won’t see a repeal for the entire bill, but I do believe there are pieces that we can work on.  Then of course working on scaling down appropriations and getting a sustainable budget in place.”

Caffeinated Thoughts asked if she had a particular regulation to target.

“I will give you, first and foremost, Waters of the U.S., this is a big issue, that we continue to talk about as the EPA works through those rules and regulations, and I sent out a letter just this week inviting Administrator Gina McCarthy to Iowa.  I’d love to bring her to Iowa and some of her top-level officials and walk her through those businesses, to those counties, to those farms, and show her what impact those rules and regulations are having and will have on Iowan small business.”

Caffeinated Thoughts asked what legislation addressing Obamacare can actually get through with a President that has threatened to veto just about everything.

“We need to take a good hard look at the medical device tax, that is one that is fairly well agreed upon between Democrats and Republicans.  The other, if we actually look at the way we established our work week, redefining it down to 30 hours a week as full-time employment I think we can gain some traction on that by moving the work week up to its definition of 40 hours a week.  So those are just a couple of  areas that we can start.  We have to find that common ground, and once we find some common ground with our Democratic colleagues we can move the legislation forward.  I think those are things that we can do.”

She discussed her first in-progress 99 county tour as U.S. Senator.

“It’s going great.  We have 20 counties down so far and anytime that we have a recess or some additional time in Iowa I will be out on the road and visiting each of the 99 counties.”

Caffeinated Thoughts asked how often she has made it back to Iowa since assuming office.

“I make it back every weekend and during recess.  I was not home one weekend, and the reason I was not home in Iowa over that weekend was because I attended the Munich Security Conference.  This was a part of my job as a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee going to Germany and meeting with world leaders and really getting their take first hand in small sit-down groups on the challenges that they face, and the things that they would like to see the United States participating in.  It was remarkable, but we do have some serious threats around the globe and we need to address those.”

Caffeinated Thoughts asked if she thought that “combat veteran” label controversy has been finally nipped in the bud.

“I hope we have because as it is defined by DoD and the Veterans Affairs Administration I am a combat veteran, and I am very proud of my service.  I am very proud of the service that all of our logisticians, our truck drivers, our mechanics have made.  They traveled those same dangerous roads as every other soldier in theater.  I did not receive a combat action badge, many of our fellow soldiers out there in other transportation units did.  What I’m saying is that we have served in those combat zones as defined by the DoD.  We are combat veterans, and I thank them for their service.”

Ernst also discussed her call for an examination of V.A. Central Health Care System’s mental health programs following the news that Richard Miles, a military veteran who may have struggled with post traumatic stress disorder, was found dead in Water Works Park in Des Moines.

“We haven’t learned anything from the request so far, of course we just have preliminary information that have come from the reports through the media, statements made by his friends, things that we do need to look at.  I do know our V.A. health care system in many, many other instances has given tremendous quality care.  But what we need to find out is if there is something lacking in our process, our procedures, if there was a step that was done wrong, we need to figure out what that was.  We are losing 22 veterans a day to suicide, and one is too much.  For this young man and his family we owe it to him and to them to make sure we’re figuring out if there was a problem, and if there was a problem it needs to be addressed.  So that is my commitment to the veterans out there is that I’ve heard your plea, we will look into this, and see if we can do things better.”

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