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December 20 2019

Senator Joni Ernst on the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act

featuring Beverly Hallberg

On this week’s episode of “She Thinks,” Senator Joni Ernst joins to talk about the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. Senator Ernst introduced this important piece of legislation which aims to embrace a more modern, strong, and proactive approach to the current threats faced by young women and girls. She also discusses why she won’t accept any “mansplaining” by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer regarding the ongoing Violence Against Women (VAWA) bill.

Senator Ernst is a mother, a solider and a leader. From the start, she has taken on Washington and delivered on her pledge to “Make ‘em Squeal.” She became the first woman elected to represent Iowa in federal office, and the first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate. She relentlessly tackles the most pressing issues facing our country including continuing to grow the economy, cutting reckless spending, and keeping our nation safe and secure.

Beverly Halberg:
And welcome to She Thinks, a podcast where you're allowed to think for yourself. I'm your host Beverly Hallberg, and on this episode it's an honor to have with us Senator Joni Ernst. She's joining to talk about legislation she's introduced called the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which aims to embrace a more modern, strong, and proactive approach to the current threats faced by young women and girls.

Beverly Halberg:
Before we bring her on a little bit more about Senator Ernst, she is a mother, a soldier, and a leader. From the start, she has taken on Washington and delivered on her pledge to "make them squeal". She's become the first woman elected to represent Iowa, and federal office, and the first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate. She relentlessly tackles that the most pressing issues facing our country, including continuing to grow the economy, cutting reckless spending, and of course keeping our nation safe and secure. Senator, thank you for all your work, and thank you so much for joining us today.

Senator Ernst:
My pleasure, Beverly. Thank you for having me on.

Beverly Halberg:
And, before we even jump into the legislation that you have been working tirelessly on, I was just curious about your day to day life as a US Senator. You were elected in 2015, and you along with Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who's also been on our program, you're the first Republican women to serve on the judiciary committee. So as a conservative woman in the Senate, what's your day to day like? What have you learned? Has it been fun, or has it been really hard?

Senator Ernst:
You know, I would say that it is absolutely fantastic. To be a conservative woman as serving in the United States Senate is an honor, truly an honor. And of course, because I love my home state of Iowa so much, I am so glad to have the opportunity to project Iowans' voices at the federal level and really work on the issues that are important to them. So, I encourage so many other conservative women to be engaged, and whether it is at the local level, the state level, the federal level, we just really need their voices. We need them projecting at whatever level they can as well. I think we do need more conservative women serving.

Beverly Halberg:
And is there any advice you could give to somebody who's interested in running, who is a conservative woman who cares about the free market? When it comes to often the backlash they receive from media, I think there's often a lot of unfair bias against women who don't fall in line with what mainstream media thinks you ought to think and what you ought to do. Any tips you could give, and how you've personally handled that?

Senator Ernst:
Several tips. And the first, is always to have very thick skin, and do not take it personally. We know that mainstream media is always going to target conservative women. We understand that, but it is important to be engaged. And so I do recommend for women that really want to have their voices heard to engage. Don't let the naysayers be naysayers.

Senator Ernst:
But the second thing that I encourage with women that are interested in engaging in politics, or for that matter business, whatever it might be, is when you walk into a room, be the subject matter expert. You always have to do that. Whatever your passion is, know that passion inside and out. Know what the advocates are advocating for, and know what the naysayers are going to push back against. And then, know how to debate it properly. But always be that subject matter expert when you walk into a room, own the room.

Senator Ernst:
I got so tired of, of entering into a room where I'm in there with a bunch of older men that look at you and maybe pat you on the shoulder, and you know they're thinking, aw, sweet Joni, look a little Joni. But when I open my mouth and speak to a subject, when I am the subject matter expert, they don't look at me the same way. They look at me and say, wow, she knows her stuff. And that's what I encourage with all women is to know your topic inside and out.

Beverly Halberg:
So it's more than just faking it till you make it. You actually have to put the work in, which of course you've done. You have put in so much work on the Violence Against Women Act. This is something you want to be reauthorized, but you face an uphill battle with Democrats who have turned this into a partisan piece of legislation even though it should be bipartisan. Before we get into the politics behind it, tell us a little bit about this act. You are a survivor yourself, so this is something that is personal to you. What does this act do?

Senator Ernst:
It is very, very personal to me. I am a survivor of rape and domestic violence, and so I am focused on getting resources and support to survivors. I want to punish abusers and really enhance the purpose of the law.

Senator Ernst:
And that's what this reauthorization does. I am intent on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. It is a top priority. Again, it is very personal to me, and my version of the bill is what I call the Survivor's Bill. And it does three main things. We can break it down like that.

Senator Ernst:
One, it bolsters resources. Two, it punishes abusers and enables victims. And then third, this version of the bill, my version of the bill, is a bill that will actually be able to pass the Senate and the House, and be signed into law by the president. So that's what we're very focused on in the Survivor's Bill. And we can do a little bit a deeper dive into that if you'd like as well.

Beverly Halberg:
Well, I'm curious what this means during the Me Too era. What does this mean for due process? There are men who are sometimes wrongly accused. How do we balance obviously wanting women who have been abused, having a place where they feel safe, where they can be protected, but also realizing that sometimes women don't tell the truth. And so anything you can say to that, and how there are protections built within this?

Senator Ernst:
Right. And certainly, what we have been able to do within the bill, it does focus a lot on resources, but then it does add additional punishments for those that are abusers.

Senator Ernst:
But again, getting back to what protections might be in place for certain men, or does it penalize the women that come out falsely? There are already certain laws that are in place, and certainly we don't want to change any of that. We want to make sure that there is always due process in anything that we do.

Senator Ernst:
But what we have done, again, is focus very much on the resources that are available to our survivors, those that have been through domestic violence or sexual assault, due process is always important, but certainly this bill is focused on those that are survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. So, that's what we are focusing on in this aspect.

Beverly Halberg:
And you introduced this about a month ago in November, right before Thanksgiving, and it looked like there was going to be bipartisan agreement on it. But I want to read a recent quote from you. You said, "Unfortunately the Senate Democrats decided to turn their backs and walk away on what would have been a bipartisan reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act." Why did you see this shift? Why did you see them all of a sudden change their minds?

Senator Ernst:
Well, it was very interesting because I had been working with the ranking member on the judiciary committee, Diane Feinstein, Senator Feinstein, Democrat of California. We had been working for months, and months, and months on developing a bipartisan proposal that I really did think we could get across the finish line.

Senator Ernst:
And so, we've been very diligent about working with the various committees in the Senate that maybe had jurisdiction over one aspect of the bill or another. And we were really making great progress. And I think that's what concerned Chuck Schumer is that we were actually making bi-partisan progress.

Senator Ernst:
And so, through the last couple of months of bipartisanship working on this bill, Senator Feinstein did indicate, she said she was getting pressure from Chuck Schumer to introduce the House version of the bill, which would never pass in the Senate. And, she continued working with me, but she finally got to a point, she said, Chuck is telling me I have to introduce the House version of the bill. And she said, so I am going to do that, I have to do it. But she said, I want to continue working with you on this bill because I think we can come together. And I think that's wonderful. Diane and I still do sit down. We still do discuss the different issues within the bill.

Senator Ernst:
However, Chuck Schumer has drawn a hard line in the sand, and he will not allow any bipartisanship to happen. And that's unfortunate because what they have done essentially is put up a bill, their version of the bill that will not pass. And they acknowledge that in their own press conference. They mentioned multiple times, this will never get through the Senate. Well, why is it then that they are banking on a bill that will never pass?

Senator Ernst:
We'll never be able to provide resources to survivors. Why are they doing that? Why would they not continue working in a bipartisan manner? I'm up for reelection. So I think plain and simple, it came down to politics rather than focusing on the needs of survivors.

Beverly Halberg:
And you even were quoted as saying, you don't need to be mansplained by Chuck Schumer. He had his thoughts on this and had his quotes on this. How is he justifying this? Is he making this about the bill that you're working on not being sufficient enough? Even though as you said, you and Diane Feinstein had been working very closely together on this?

Senator Ernst:
Well, his explanation is very thin. He thinks that the House bill is the way to go even though he says it will not pass in the Senate, and he is correct in that aspect, it won't pass in the Senate.

Senator Ernst:
The House version of the bill is full of political talking points. It's not focused on actually benefiting survivors, protecting those that have been through domestic violence situations. And so, it's so thin. It is so thin. It's hardly veiled. It is all about politics. It is not about getting a reauthorization in place.

Senator Ernst:
If he really did want to see the Violence Against Women Act reauthorized, he would have allowed Diane Feinstein to continue with the bipartisan negotiations that were ongoing when he told her to cease and desist. So again, the big red button of partisan politics came into play, and I'm very disappointed, but I am not giving up. Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act is critical, and it has to be done. So it really shouldn't be a partisan issue. I wish Chuck Schumer had disengaged.

Senator Ernst:
And yes, I do not need this mansplained to me by Chuck Schumer. I understand as a survivor the necessity of keeping these programs in place. And I also volunteered for two years at a domestic violence shelter and a crisis hotline when I was in college. This is something I've lived through. It is something that I believe needs to be eradicated in our society. And I am heck bent on getting VAWA would done. They have thrown up a roadblock, but again, we just need to continue pushing forward.

Beverly Halberg:
So that leads me to my question on what do you do next? So obviously you're speaking out on this, you're here on the podcast today, you're being very straightforward about why you think this was blocked. And I will just say to those who are listening, IWF has a lot of great resources on this, on our website. So they should check it out there. But what can women do? What do you plan to do to try to get more traction on this and to make sure that Chuck Schumer isn't the person that prevents this from being reauthorized?

Senator Ernst:
Well, we do need everyone, all of your listeners across the country, we need them to speak out. And the way to do that, is engage. Get online. Shoot an email off to their Senator or their member of the House. Make a call to their offices and say, we need to pass the Violence Against Women Act. We need Joni Ernst's bill, the Survivor's Bill to make it through the Senate. We want a bipartisan bill. We need them to speak out. Otherwise, those members of Congress will not be influenced.

Senator Ernst:
I continue visiting with my own colleagues. I visit with members across the aisle. Matter of fact, I just recently sat down with Diane yet again, and we continue to have discussions. But, I'm no way encouraged by Chuck Schumer. I know that she's doing this on her own and not with the blessing of Chuck Schumer. So, kudos to Diane for wanting to continue to move forward.

Senator Ernst:
But we really do have a strong bill. And, doing a little bit deeper dive, it's a 10% increase in funding over the Senate's Democrat bill that was introduced. We have triple funding for rape prevention and education of the current levels. There is increasing rural housing funding because in the rural areas, oftentimes we don't have a local shelter to go to. We also included, and this has been an issue with IWF, which is really important, we have included female genital mutilation, where it can be prosecuted at the federal level. That's included in my bill. It increases penalties for child sexual abusers, and it formally recognizes sex trafficking as a form of sexual assault.

Senator Ernst:
So all of these great things are wrapped into my Survivor's Bill. That's why they should call their members of Congress and really promote it, is we have done so much in this bill that really modernizes the Violence Against Women Act and takes it to a whole nother level.

Beverly Halberg:
Well, I so appreciate you joining us and in also talking about your work on this. And I think anybody who's listening, we can all say that we appreciate and are thankful for your courage and talking about your own experience in being a survivor. I know that can't be an easy thing, but I think it's helped so many women out there, and so I just want to personally thank you for doing that and for your work on the Violence Against Women Act. Thank you for joining us.

Senator Ernst:
Well, it has been a pleasure, Beverly, and thank you for giving me this great platform to talk about the Violence Against Women Act, and why it should be a priority in reauthorization. Again, just encourage all of the listeners to reach out to their members of Congress and support our Survivors Bill. Thank you so much for the time.

Beverly Halberg:
And thank you all for joining us. Before you go, I wanted to let you know of a great podcast you should subscribe to in addition to She Thinks, of course. It is called Problematic Women, and it's hosted by Kelsey Buller and Lauren Evans, where they both sort through the news to bring stories and interviews that are of particular interest to conservative leaning or problematic women, that is, women whose views and opinions are often excluded or mocked by those on the so called feminist left. Every Thursday, hear them talk about everything from pop culture to policy and politics by searching for Problematic Women wherever you get your podcasts.

Beverly Halberg:
Last, if you enjoyed this episode of She Thinks, do leave us a rating or a review on iTunes, it does help. And we'd love it if you shared this episode, and let your friends know where they can find more She Thinks episodes. From all of us here at Independent Women's Forum, thanks for listening.


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Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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