Transcript: Sen. Joni Ernst on "Face the Nation," Nov. 18, 2018

The following is a transcript of the interview with Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa that aired Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, on "Face the Nation." 


MARGARET BRENNAN:  Welcome back to "Face the Nation." We turn now to Iowa Senator Joni Ernst who has joined the Republican leadership team as the Conference Vice Chairwoman in the new Congress. Good to see you in person.

SENATOR JONI ERNST: Thank you, Margaret. Thank you. It's great to be with you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The president gave an interview this morning to Fox's Chris Wallace and he said that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen needs to be much tougher on the border. What is she doing wrong?

SEN. ERNST: Well, I think that she has done a good job. I think the president is just very frustrated, of course, with what we see at the border. We do have a large number of- of immigrants that are trying to get over the border illegally and we do need to make sure that we've got plenty of surveillance, that we have plenty of officers ready to respond. I think her response has been well so far, we as Congress need to step forward and do the next steps.

MARGARET BRENNAN: She should continue in the role?  

SEN. ERNST: I think that she's done a good job, but of course, any of our secretaries or cabinet members serve at the pleasure of the president. It's entirely up to him who serves in those positions.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're a vet. Is deploying 6,000 troops to the border a good use of resources?

SEN. ERNST: Well I- again, up to the president and of course those governors that are involved if they're National Guard soldiers.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're on Armed Services, you have a voice.

SEN. ERNST: If they are active duty soldiers it does actually provide them an opportunity for real life training in their roles. Many of them, if they serve in logistics type positions they will actually be doing those missions on the border. So it is a very good skill. As someone who has commanded troops both in peacetime and in wartime to make sure that they keep their skills sharp. And so when they do deploy, they are in harm's way overseas. They know exactly how to support the- the men and women on the frontlines.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's how you see- I know General Mattis said- Secretary Mattis has  said they won't even have any contact with people coming across.

SEN. ERNST: Exactly, but they will be utilized in the roles. Like I said many of them may be logistics professionals serving in our armed services. And then it gives them greater opportunity to respond quickly in those types of situations, whether they are supporting with food or body armor, whatever it might be for Border Patrol agents. It allows those Border Patrol agents to actually focus on the law enforcement duties.

MARGARET BRENNAN: As we introduce you, you are the first female senator to be in a leadership position of the GOP in a decade. But the number of women- Republican women in the house is at a 24 year low. We have never seen a Republican woman in the House or Senate in the whip leader or speaker positions. Now from these midterm results we're seeing female voters breaking from the party. Does the Republican Party have a problem with women?

SEN. ERNST: Well, I think we need to encourage more women to run for office. I think we really can do much better in that area and then encourage them to seek responsibilities as leaders. So I was really really honored to be elected into our Republican leadership in the Senate. We have to have quality candidate- candidates out there and again encourage them to run, we need to be--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Was that the problem in the primaries that you saw, where some women were running but not winning?

SEN. ERNST: Well, part of that--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is it the- is the issue with Republican men not voting for Republican female candidates?

SEN. ERNST: I would say that part of that really is that we need to connect with our constituencies. We need to make sure that our voices are being heard. So whether it is focusing on health care priorities. Whether it is focusing on a national paid family leave opportunity for men and for women. Whatever those messages are, we need to communicate those and make sure that we are being heard when our constituents go to the polls.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Will you be doing anything to recruit more women?

SEN. ERNST: Certainly I- I do visit with a number of women and I talk to Republican women. I see Democratic women when I'm in Iowa as well. And if they have a passion, if they believe in public service, I always encourage them to run, if that's their desire to serve the people of their- their potential district. We want them to step up and make their voices heard.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You don't think the president's rhetoric or what happened during the 2016 election is turning away women from the party overall--

SEN. ERNST: I--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --voters or candidates?

SEN. ERNST: I think that we could do a better job of communicating clearly that we support women and that's something that I try and do. I try and set a very strong example for women that want to run for office, women that wish to serve in the military. Whatever it might be, we need to set a good example. Women primarily, men secondarily, we need to step up and make sure that we are supporting the needs of our constituents.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about something that really impacts your home state. The vice president said today- and he's in Asia, that the U.S. is not in a rush to end this trade dispute with China, suggesting that things might not get resolved when President Xi and Trump sit down in just a few weeks. There was a 12 billion dollar bailout for farmers, to help alleviate some of this pain. Will you need another one?

SEN. ERNST: I am hopeful that we will not need another subsidy program for our farmers. Our farmers would much rather grow their goods and make sure that they are getting out to the rest of the world. Absolutely. But I've done a number of farmer roundtables all across the state of Iowa and at the last one I held, the very last speaker, a- a middle aged farmer, he-he stood up and said I understand why President Trump is doing this; however, what I don't understand is why someone didn't do it sooner. So they understand--

MARGARET BRENNAN: The pain is tolerable for now?

SEN. ERNST: The pain is tolerable for now.  I want to see these trade deals done. I'd rather see them done sooner, rather than later, but we have to get a good deal with China or it's all for naught.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator, thank you for joining us.

SEN. ERNST: Thank you. Pleasure.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be back with a panel of some of the new House members.