Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, told reporters that farmers in her state could "turn quickly" against the president if President Trump's trade war continues. Ernst spoke at a luncheon sponsored by Winning for Women, an organization dedicated to recruiting and promoting conservative women running for office.
"Trade is a big deal in Iowa and we export a lot of our agriculture commodities to other countries," Ernst said, giving the example of pork producers in Iowa who typically export to China. The parts of the pig which Americans discard, such as the head and offals, used to be high-value export to China. But now that Chinese tariffs are preventing farmers from exporting pig products, pork prices are currently low.
Ernst said that despite the struggles caused by trade disputes, pork producers in Iowa have remained loyal to the president. But she also said that the president couldn't bet on that loyalty forever.
"They would say 'we're still will the president,' even though they're suffering right now," Ernst said about pork producers in her state. "If we don't get the trade deals done, they could turn quickly...We need to start wrapping this baby up."
Friendship with Kirsten Gillibrand
Ernst also talked about her friendship with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat. Ernst said that despite their disagreements on how to tackle the issue, the two have paired up to write a bill that would "professionalize the way we prosecute within the military" and ensure that prosecutors have experience and knowledge in prosecuting sexual assault.
She also talked about how she and Gillibrand, who is running for president, spend time together outside of the Senate. Ernst said that when Gillibrand visits Iowa for her campaign, they will find the time to get together.
"If I find an opening where I can grab coffee with her while she's in Iowa and I'm in a similar place, I'll go grab coffee with her," Ernst said. "I value her friendship."
Ernst also said that she believed Gillibrand and women running for president receive unfair coverage in the media. She noted how Hillary Clinton was often mocked for her appearance during the 2016 election.
"I did hate that the media focused on her pantsuit. I mean Jeez Louise! Give us a break," Ernst said.
Paid family leave
Ernst is a supporter of paid family leave proposals spearheaded by Ivanka Trump. Ernst and Sen. Mike Lee introduced a bill which would provide paid family leave by drawing from a person's social security pension this month. Critics point out that workers will still be paying for the leave by delaying their retirement for twice as many months as they took leave.
Ernst addressed these concerns at the luncheon, saying that while workers would be borrowing from themselves, the delay in retirement is worth "the opportunity to spend that precious time" with infant children. She noted that President Trump had allocated funds in his budget proposal for a paid family leave program.
A possible Senate bid for Mike Pompeo
Ernst also discussed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's recent visits to Iowa and Kansas. She said that Pompeo called her before visiting her state.
Pompeo, who was previously a congressman in Kansas, is reportedly considering a run for the Senate in 2020. For his part, Mr. Trump has denied that he is leaving the administration.
"We'll see if he'll run," Ernst said. Pompeo confirmed in January that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has asked him to run to replace retiring Sen. Pat Roberts.
"It would be nice to have him back in Congress," Ernst said.
Relationship with the president
Ernst said that while she sometimes disagrees with Mr. Trump, she maintains "cordiality" with him. She also said that arguing with him was not an effective way to communicate with him about a difference in opinion.
"Railing on him on an issue and getting into a Twitter fight -- that's not going to make him support the issues that are important to me," she said.
Ernst also discussed how accessible the president is, giving the example of Mr. Trump recently calling her directly on her cellphone. Ernst said that at first she did not answer, because the caller was unidentified. In order to get her to pick up, Mr. Trump's secretary had to contact Ernst to let her know that Mr. Trump was trying to reach her.
"He will just randomly call sometimes," Ernst said. She said that she and groups of senators would sometimes show up at the White House to speak with Mr. Trump, as the administration has an almost "open door policy."
"This is the most accessible president, I think ever," Ernst said.