Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst seemed to embrace on Monday a thoroughly-discredited QAnon conspiracy theory about U.S. deaths from COVID-19 being a mere fraction of what has been reported. As the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier wrote, Ernst said she was “so skeptical” of the official death count when asked by an attendee if the government was over-reporting coronavirus deaths.
“They’re thinking there may be 10,000 or less deaths that were actually singularly COVID-19,” Ernst said, seemingly referring to the debunked conspiracy theory that only around 6% of COVID-19 deaths were due to the virus. “I’m just really curious. It would be interesting to know that.”
Going even further, however, Ernst also suggested that doctors were intentionally falsifying coronavirus cases in order to receive more money for caring for the patient.
Then on Wednesday, she realized how fucking stupid that sounds:
Asked later what she meant, Ernst said she was repeating what she’s heard.
“I heard the same thing on the news. … They’re thinking there may be 10,000 or less deaths that were actually singularly COVID-19. … I’m just really curious. It would be interesting to know that.”
Later Wednesday, Ernst said in a statement, “Over 180,000 Americans have died because of covid-19,” adding that “what matters” is that Iowa gets the resources it needs.
According to a tracking project by The New York Times, Iowa has had the most new virus cases per capita of any state over the last seven days. Ames and Iowa City, home to Iowa State University and the University of Iowa, rank second and fourth nationally among metro areas with the most cases per capita over the past two weeks.
Ms. Ernst’s comments seemed to track a false claim spread by President Trump over the weekend, and removed by Twitter for violating disinformation rules, because it is linked to the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory.
The claim, retweeted by Mr. Trump, inaccurately said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “quietly updated the Covid number to admit that only 6%” of deaths — or about 9,000 people — “actually died from Covid.”
Ms. Ernst, who is fending off a stiff challenge from her Democratic opponent, Theresa Greenfield, had also suggested on Monday that doctors and hospitals had a financial incentive to inflate coronavirus statistics. “These health care providers and others are reimbursed at a higher rate if Covid is tied to it, so what do you think they’re doing?” she told voters gathered between fields of corn and soybeans.
Ms. Greenfield accused her opponent on Wednesday of “peddling dangerous conspiracy theories” in a tweet. “Heck, we need our leaders to trust scientists.”
The Iowa senate race is on track to be the most expensive in state history as national Democrats target Ms. Ernst, a former National Guard commander in Iraq, in their drive to win a Senate majority. Republican groups are responding in kind, pouring money into defending Ms. Ernst, a first-term senator who has been considered a rising Republican star. She was one of few campaigning G.O.P. senators who spoke at last week’s Republican National Convention, where she praised Mr. Trump’s relief for farmers for financial losses during the pandemic, which came on top of massive bailouts because of lost agricultural exports during his trade wars.
Public polling shows the Iowa senate race is a statistical tie. In the latest fund-raising quarter, Ms. Greenfield brought in just over $6 million, $2.4 million more than Ms. Ernst, though the incumbent had more cash in her campaign account.
Calling for quick action to fund and protect the U.S. Postal Service, Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield on Tuesday called on U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst to end her “vacation” and go back to Washington to demand Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell open the Senate for business.
“You know, we’re just here today to talk a little bit about why it is so important that the U.S. Senate, and in particular Sen. Joni Ernst, get back to Washington and put politics aside and get to work to protect the Postal Service,” Greenfield said during a virtual news conference.
“Ernst, she skipped town, and she should be in Washington right now doing her job to pass this critical legislation and more,” Greenfield said. “This really ticks me off, I have to tell you.”
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