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IA-Sen: Sen. Joni Ernst (R), “Trump Is Handling Coronavirus Pandemic Quite Well”

6 min read

Oh really?

When asked how President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic might impact her reelection race, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst was confident his response to the public health crisis will help her secure a second term.

“I think the president has actually handled it quite well, so I think it helps,” Ernst said, according to CNN. “I think he took some really great initial steps … the left was just hammering him on that and it was the right thing to do. And so, I think the president has done quite well.”

FiveThirtyEight’s ongoing look at recent polling related to Trump and the pandemic show 52.6% of Americans disapprove of the president’s response to the crisis compared to 43.3% who approve. Among Independents, only 38.9% like how he has responded.

Let’s take a look at the numbers out of Iowa:

As of 10:30 a.m. Friday the state's website shows over the last 24-hours an additional 18 deaths occurred and there are now an additional 454 cases in the Iowa. This is the fourth straight day of double digit deaths.

In total there have been 16,408 positive COVID-19 cases and 418 deaths related to the virus.

Over the last 24-hours 33 COVID-19 patients have been admitted to the hospital, for a total of 362 patients hospitalized. There are 123 patients in the ICU, and 79 are on ventilators.

In total, 119,462 Iowans have been tested. That's an increase of 4,431 over the last 24-hours. An additional 329 have recovered, for a total of 8,804 Iowans who have recovered from the virus.

And let’s look at today:

The number of coronavirus deaths in Iowa jumped by 26 to 444 on Saturday, the highest daily increase on record.

The latest deaths added to the count occurred from May 9 to May 22, according to a news release from the state. The state also reported 419 new cases, bringing the statewide total to 16,767.

Among the state's victims was Jose Andrade-Garcia, who was one week away from retiring from his job at the JBS meatpacking plant in Marshalltown when he tested positive for the coronavirus. He died last week on a ventilator, KCCI-TV reported.

His family blames JBS for not enforcing social distancing protocols soon enough.

Also, let’s take a look at this:

When the coronavirus pandemic first struck Iowa, the initial local outbreaks had clear causes. The early spread in Johnson County originated from Iowans returning from a cruise in Egypt. Surrounding counties in Eastern Iowa soon had positive case numbers in the double-digits. Population centers like Polk County quickly followed.

But as attention was focused on these counties, a small, rural one in the northeast corner of the state was experiencing its own very early outbreak. On March 25, Allamakee County counted seven cases of COVID-19, just as many as Linn and Dallas counties had at that stage.

A week earlier, Gov. Kim Reynolds had announced Iowa was now experiencing “community spread.” But with the comparatively high initial numbers in such a small, remote county, locals in Allamakee turned to speculation.

Some said the high numbers must stem from Waukon’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities, part of which continued right before the state imposed its first major rounds of pandemic restrictions.

No, others hypothesized — the virus came when two Jewish Postville residents returned home after traveling to New York City. It’s subsequently spreading throughout the town’s kosher meatpacking plant among the largely Hispanic and African workforce.

A few communities in Allamakee see a lot of traffic from Black Hawk, Linn and Johnson counties, others suggested, places that also had high early numbers. That’s how it’s spreading.

Chatter, though speculative, only increased within the county of nearly 14,000 as coronavirus numbers continued to soar over the next two months. As of Friday morning, 118 residents have tested positive for the virus. That’s enough to make them the tenth-highest in per-capita cases in Iowa (it was the worst-hit rural county before several meatpacking plant outbreaks elsewhere in mid-April).

Four people have died, including some well-known community members that “spooked” the locals early on, one Waukon councilman said.

State officials said the county’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is high because of aggressive testing techniques. At a May 11 daily press conference, Gov. Reynolds attributed the uptick to recent strike force testing at Postville’s Agri Star kosher facility — one of the meatpacking plants in the state to never close its doors during the pandemic.

So how is Trump handling this pandemic “quite well”? By the way, Ernst made that statement on Wednesday. On Thursday, she chose to get into a fight with Trump about this:

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst is expressing frustration over a lack of action from the Environmental Protection Agency on issues related to the biofuel industry.

During a U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing earlier this week, Ernst grilled EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler regarding his awareness of COVID-19's impact on ethanol producers, and how he intends to handle requests for Renewable Fuel Standard waivers. In a conference call with reporters, the Red Oak Republican said she wasn't pleased with Wheeler's answers.

“I learned very little that is new,” said Ernst. “It just seems like the EPA is continuing to drag its feet, so we will continue to be pushing on these issues.”

Among other things, Ernst pressed Wheeler on his previous commitments to improving biofuel infrastructure, as well as eliminating E-15 warning labels. She says Wheeler's answers were evasive.

“He said that they found some complications,” she said, “and will have to work through those. And, when I asked him for a timeframe on when that would be done, again, he couldn't give a director answer on when they would have it completed. So, it just tells me we have more we have to do in that area, pushing administrator Wheeler.”

Some more context:

Ernst, who voted in February 2019 in favor of Wheeler to lead the EPA, has been a relentless critic of the former coal lobbyist as he works to undermine Iowa’s biofuels industry.

Under Wheeler and President Trump’s leadership, the EPA has granted at least 85 waivers to oil refineries, resulting in more than 4 billion gallons lost of renewable fuel. Biofuels plants in Iowa and across the country have shut down due to the drop in demand for ethanol, a situation made even more dire by the pandemic.

Iowa State University professors estimate the outbreak of COVID-19 will lead to more than $2.5 billion in overall annual damage to Iowa’s ethanol industry and a $347 million loss due to decreasing ethanol prices.

Doing a heck of a job, Trump.

While she can’t physically campaign across the state, Ernst’s top opponent, Theresa Greenfield (D. IA), is virtually connecting with Iowans across the state:

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And has been outraising Ernst:

Iowa Democrat Theresa Greenfield outraised Sen. Joni Ernst (R) in the state’s Senate race in the first half of the second quarter of 2020, according to a pre-primary report.

Greenfield raised about $1.5 million and has $4.7 million in the bank, according to her campaign’s latest filing with the Federal Election Commission. Meanwhile, Ernst raised $1.2 million, but boasts a beefier balance of $7 million, according to her campaign's filing.

Campaigns with primaries on June 2 have filed so-called pre-primary reports that cover from April 1 to May 13. Iowa is one of a handful of states that will hold its primary June 2.

Let’s keep up the momentum. Click here to donate and get involved with Greenfield’s campaign.

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