Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), when confronted with her previous criticisms of then-President Barack Obama’s handling of the Ebola outbreak in 2014, claimed on Sunday morning that President Donald Trump is “stepping forward” in his response to the coronavirus pandemic that’s now killed almost 130,000 Americans.
During the 2014 midterm elections, Ernst joined a chorus of Republicans who exploited the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa for political gain. Despite Obama deploying 3,000 service members to Africa to contain the virus, and only 11 confirmed cases and two deaths recorded in the United States, Ernst at the time accused the president of “failed leadership” on the disease.
Interviewing the Iowa senator on CNN’s State of the Union, host Dana Bash brought up Ernst’s past comments on Obama’s Ebola response and asked if she would use the same words to describe how Trump has handled COVID-19.
“Cases in your home state of Iowa have steadily risen for the last two weeks,” Bash noted. “You criticized President Obama in 2014 for his handling of the Ebola outbreak, saying that he showed ‘failed leadership.’ Only two people in the U.S. died from Ebola. Right now there are almost 130,000 Americans dead from coronavirus. So if President Obama showed failed leadership then, do you think President Trump is showing failed leadership now?”
Ernst, who is currently facing a tough re-election race, largely avoided the CNN host’s question, instead saying that everyone has “responsibility in stopping the spread” while somewhat downplaying the surge of coronavirus cases in her state by noting they’ve seen “one additional death” in Iowa in the past 24 hours.
“So given the fact that one person died there, that’s only half the number that died during Ebola, which you said was failed leadership,” Bash retorted, circling back to her original question. “Is the president right now exhibiting failed leadership?”
The Republican lawmaker, however, took the opportunity to heap praise on the Trump administration for its response to the public health crisis while seemingly placing the blame on Democrats for any shortfalls.
“No, I think that the president is stepping forward and we have Vice President Mike Pence that is spearheading the task force efforts on the coronavirus,” Ernst insisted. “And so understanding where this came from, how it developed, of course, the push back that we got from the Democrats when the president did try to shut down travel from some of those hot spots, it was an extremely difficult environment to operate.”
Ernst’s home state of Iowa, meanwhile, hit its all-time high in new coronavirus cases on Saturday, reporting 568 new COVID-19 infections. The state also saw a positive test rate of 8.1 percent, slightly above the nation’s current average of 7.6 percent.