Transcript: Sen. Joni Ernst on "Face the Nation," July 8, 2018

Sen. Joni Ernst appears on "Face the Nation" on Sunday, July 8, 2018.

CBS News

The following is a transcript of the interview with Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa that aired Sunday, July 8, 2018, on "Face the Nation."  


MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to go now though to Omaha, Nebraska, where Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst has crossed the state line to talk with us this morning.

Good morning to you, Senator.

SENATOR JONI ERNST: Good morning, Margaret. Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to talk about another story in Asia and that is what has been happening overnight with our Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The North Koreans seem to be bashing President Trump's hopes here for a quick denuclearization deal. While Secretary Pompeo speaking in positive, optimistic terms -- the North Koreans said he had "gangster-like" diplomacy, seems like a return to this hard line rhetoric. Have you seen any indication of tangible progress?

SEN. ERNST: Well I do think talks are progress and so I applaud the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for engaging in these discussions. The ultimate goal is denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. And if these talks will eventually lead to that I am very, very supportive of those efforts. Of course we're going to hear hard talk coming from North Korea. This is not the path that they want to take but it is what the rest of the world wants to see.

MARGARET BRENNAN: How long do you think the U.S. should wait before restarting its military exercises?

SEN. ERNST: Well I think we should continue with military exercises. Obviously I believe that they have a purpose in keeping the peninsula safe and making sure that should anything ever happen. Are well rehearsed with our allies to engage. So I would say soon if we don't see those talks continue.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Also, because you sit on armed services I want to get your views here on the upcoming meetings that the president will be having this week with our military allies at NATO and then with an adversary, as many would describe him, Vladimir Putin a few days after that. When he was on this program last week, Ambassador John Bolton, the national security adviser to the president, proposed partnering with Russia in Syria to oust Iran. Are you concerned that in exchange for such an agreement the U.S. would draw down its almost 2000 forces that it has on the ground in Syria?

SEN. ERNST: I-I would be concerned. We need stability in that region. And I would just caution the president as we move forward with any discussions with Russia, obviously Russia is not our friend. We oppose many of the actions that they've taking going back to the invasion of Crimea and so forth. So I would be very cautious in those moves. But if there is a way that we can partner and put a lid on Iran I- I would support that. That again being very cautious because I don't see that Russia would ever be a true friend or allied to the United States of America.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Some of your Republican colleagues though recently traveled to Moscow this week and met with Russian officials. Do you think it was a mistake for senators Thune, senators-- Shelby to have gone?

SEN. ERNST: No I don't think it's a mistake. Again - if we can engage in discussions that are productive that's okay. But again, just being very cautious and understanding that they will never be a true friend to the United States of America. So again just as it is with North Korea, discussions are good, and if we can move towards a resolution where the world becomes a safer place we should always strive for that. But again we just need to be very cautious with a number of these leaders, because I don't know that they have the same interests that the United States of America does.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about something close to home for you and that is what China is now calling the largest trade war in economic history. What are you hearing from so many of those voters in Iowa who are supportive of the president but worried about what this will mean for them?

SEN. ERNST: And- and you hit the nail on the head Margaret. The- Our voters are supportive of President Trump. Our farmers just really think that he is doing the right thing. But unfortunately, we are caught in the crosshairs. America's farmers and ranchers are always the first to be retaliated against in these types of trade negotiations, and the tariffs that have been imposed and the retaliation stemming from that puts us in a very vulnerable position as our markets go down. So I would just encourage the president, of course we want great deals, and I know he'll be able to negotiate those, but we would like to see a number of these trade agreements wrapped up in short order. The sooner the better.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well- do you hear of any progress? I mean, it sounds like the president is only talking about escalation and- and are you asking the president to send any kind of financial aid to some of these farmers?

SEN. ERNST: Well- no. And matter of fact, we push back on financial aid. Here in the Midwest we believe in trade not aid. We don't want another welfare-type program going to our farmers. They want to produce and they want to sell their goods to- to markets. So that's what we strive for. But I did speak with Ambassador Lighthizer, our U.S. trade rep, yesterday, and I did get encouraging news from him. I think there are a number of agreements that we're very close on. And he is working on a number of- of new free trade agreements. So I- I am encouraged - I would ask that we stay strong. But at some point we have to close the deal. And I- as I said, I would like to see the president do that sooner rather than later.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Just to clarify, you're talking about markets other than China? Perhaps deals with Mexico, Canada?

SEN. ERNST: Absolutely, markets other than China. I believe that we can work to a point where we have Mexico and Canada on board, I think China will be a much longer haul. But there are other agreements that are being worked on as well, and- and I would- encourage the ambassador as well as the president to get those done soon so that we can start developing those opportunities for our Iowa farmers.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator- you are a- strong female leader in the Senate. And I want to ask you about words the president said this week about one of your colleagues, Elizabeth Warren.

[START CLIP]

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm going to get one of those little kids. And in the middle of the debate, when she proclaims that she's of Indian heritage, because her mother said she has high cheekbones. That's her only evidence, that her mother said she had cheekbones. We will take that little kid, and say, but we have to do it gently. Because we're in the me-too generation, so we have to be very gentle. And we will very gently take that kid and we will slowly toss it, hoping it doesn't hit her and injure her arm.

[END CLIP]

MARGARET BRENNAN: It's not unfamiliar for the president to attack Senator Warren but he seemed to be mocking the "Me too" movement which was about defending those who were victims of sexual abuse and harassment. How do you respond to that?

SEN. ERNST: Well I take "Me too" very seriously and I had of course when I was a young woman volunteered at a women's crisis shelter in Ames, Iowa. And so when we see survivors coming forward I think that we need to take that very seriously and we need to learn from this episode in history and make sure that other survivors are able to come forward. And of course it is something that we need to discuss throughout society because we need to make sure that we're protecting men and women they should never go through sexual harassment, sexual assault or anything remotely similar to that. So I do support the "Me too" movement and I hope that others will as well. We need people to speak up and not hide these horrible circumstances.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator thank you.