Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) has been candid about having been the victim of rape and domestic violence. It's one of the reasons she's so passionate about passing a bipartisan reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. It's no wonder then, why several Twitter users advised a Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer-linked Super PAC to delete the following message for Ernst following her opposition to the Senate Democrats' version of the bill.
@joniernst is sending a message that she's not serving the needs of domestic violence victims and those in the most vulnerable communities. Iowans and victims of domestic violence deserve better than Senator Ernst #IASen— Senate Majority PAC (@MajorityPAC) November 21, 2019
"This is disgusting," "You really didn't think this one out," and "Delete this" were some of the wisest responses I read.
Ernst has been open about having been assaulted by a boyfriend in college, and later physically abused by her husband. She volunteered in a shelter in Ames, Iowa for two years working the crisis line, and working directly in the shelter with women and children. In other words, VAWA has a personal meaning to her.
"This is a big issue for me," she told a group of reporters on the hill on Tuesday.
"After my sexual assault in college, I had that crisis line that I could call," she said. "When my husband abused me a decade ago, I had a victims' advocate at the courthouse. It was funded by provisions through this type of activity. I can't imagine not having those supports available to me."
"I don't know where I would have gone," she continued. "I was ashamed and embarrassed. I didn't want to tell our friends what had happened. So having that lifeline of support outside of my circle of friends was important to me, and it helped me find my way through that very difficult time."
So, with VAWA at risk of not being reauthorized next year, she went to work on a bipartisan measure. She thought she was getting somewhere too, until Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) walked away at the eleventh hour. Ernst believes it was at the behest of Schumer. The bipartisan bill they rejected addresses female genital mutilation, which she notes is not in the Democrats' version. Her offering also triples the amount of funding that is available for education and sexual assault prevention, and enhances penalties for abusers.
The Democrats' offering, on the other hand, is "full of political talking points."
There were several provisions that the Democrats "refused to budge on," Ernst explained. For instance, their bill includes "retroactive" gun penalties against abusers.
"If you were convicted of domestic violence 30 years ago, you can have your gun rights taken away today," Ernst warned. "That doesn't allow for due process. That doesn't follow the Constitution. So that was a non-starter."
The Democrats themselves have noted that their bill probably won't get over the finish line.
"What is the point of introducing their bill when they themselves acknowledge this will go nowhere?" the senator wondered.
Ernst also rejected the Democrats' accusation that her bill does not provide extra protections for the LGBT community. Is there any truth to that?
"No," she said. "Housing is available to everyone, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity. So there are basic tenets laid out already for those who wish to receive that kind of shelter assistance."
"It is not cutting out the LGBT community," she added. "It does not do that. It does not change the language."
Her bill, she explained, is not a Republican bill. She's put in eight months of effort into it already and she was adamant that it's so important to reauthorize VAWA that if need be she'd "take her name off of it" if it would make Schumer happy.
"My bill is a bill for survivors," she said.
In case you're wondering, Ernst did respond to the PAC's suggestion. She told Schumer to keep his opinions to himself.