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Ernst Gives GOP #SOTU Rebuttal a Folksy Feel

Ernst heads to the Senate subway following a vote on Jan. 8. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Republicans are going folksy with their choice to respond to President Obama’s State of the Union address.  

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., jointly announced at their retreat Thursday that Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, would deliver the Republicans’ rebuttal.  

Ernst, who upset former Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa in 2014 as one of the party's majority-makers, gained notoriety during her campaign for an ad she ran conflating her childhood on the farm castrating pigs with her ability to cut government spending . “I am truly humbled and honored to have this opportunity to deliver the Republican address,” Ernst said. “It is a long way from Red Oak [Iowa] to Washington, D.C., and growing up on a Southwest Iowa farm years ago, I never, never would have imagined that I would have this opportunity.”  

Ernst will be the first freshman senator to deliver the address and the second woman in a row, after House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington delivered it in 2014. She is also the first woman elected to the Senate from Iowa and the first female combat veteran in the Senate. Prior to winning, Ernst served as a state senator.  

The choice to have Ernst voice the GOP's rebuttal comes as Republican leaders are looking to reach out to the conservative members of their caucus.  

GOP leaders are trying to send a broader message that they can govern responsibly — and keeping conservative members on board will be critical to delivering on that promise.  

“She’s just a really bright and capable senator and she’s a fresh new person with a lot of energy,” said Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., who called her a “commonsense conservative.”  

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., also praised Ernst, particularly for her military service, including 14 months in Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  

“I think Joni is a fantastic choice,” Ayotte said. “No only is she a very talented, bright new member of the Senate, but her service in the guard I think is incredibly important for the American people to hear about.”  

Ernst opposes abortion rights, and introduced bills in the state Senate establishing a cause of civil action against a doctor who provides an abortion. She also proposed an amendment to the state Constitution recognizing life at the time of conception, and strongly supports gun owners’ rights, having backed measures to expand them.  

Fundamental tenets of small-government policy — lower taxes, fewer federal regulations, increased government efficiency and fiscal discipline, a balanced-budget amendment and less spending — are the basic outline for her approach.  

Ernst said she was eager to get to work.  

“Like so many of our colleagues, our folks back home sent us to Washington, D.C. with a clear mission, and that mission is to get to work,” Ernst said. “That mission is to craft and implement good policies and good solutions, which will enable us to get America on a better path.”  

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