02:42 - Source: CNN
Voter to Republican senator: Is extortion okay?
Washington CNN —  

Republican Sen. Joni Ernst was confronted by an Iowan constituent on Thursday over her “silence” and for “not standing up” to President Donald Trump over his recent call for Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens.

The voter, identified by Iowa Starting Line as Amy Haskins, raised concerns during a town hall in Templeton, Iowa, over Iowa farmers struggling from the US trade war with China and expressed frustration with Trump’s focus on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

“How is that helping anybody?” Haskins said to some applause from the audience, adding later, “We get everything else except what we really need to know and what we really need (Trump) to do.”

Haskins, a resident from Manning, Iowa, who identified herself as an independent voter, then asked Ernst, “Where is the line? When are you guys going to say enough and stand up and say, ‘You know what? I’m not backing any of this.’”

“You still stand there silent. And your silence is supporting him in not standing up,” she said to the Iowa senator. “You, yourself, served. You didn’t pledge an oath to the President. You pledged it to our country, you pledged it to our Constitution. When are you guys going to start standing up and actually be there for us?”

Ernst later replied, “I can say ‘yay, nay whatever’. The President is going to say what the President is going to do. It’s up to us as members of Congress to continue working with our allies, making sure that we remain strong in the face of adversity.”

Haskins volleyed back, mentioning Trump’s attacks against US allies and praise for North Korea and Russia.

Ernst said she doesn’t speak for Trump, which led Haskins to fire back, “I know you can’t speak for him, but you can speak for yourself.”

“And I do,” Ernst replied. “And I have said this time and time again: North Korea, not our friend. Russia, not our friend. I have made that very, very clear and the President knows where I stand on those issues.”

Haskins then asked the Iowa senator about her stance on the whistleblower, who has alleged that Trump pressured Ukraine to intervene in the 2020 election. Trump has maintained that he didn’t do anything wrong.

“The whistleblower should be protected,” Ernst said — a departure from the President’s attacks against the anonymous government official whose allegations have led to House Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry.

Haskins later asked, “And our President shouldn’t be threatening them and he also should not be encouraging other countries to investigate his political rivals?”

“I would say to that, corruption no matter where it is should be ferreted out,” Ernst said. “If we have corruption here, it should be ferreted out. If there’s corruption in other countries.”

Ernst said Ukraine is still trying to clean up the “large amount of corruption” in the country.

“I don’t care where it is. I don’t care who it is, when it is. Corruption is corruption, and it should be combated.”

“But it’s OK for our President to extort other countries?” Haskins began to say, before Ernst jumped in.

“We can’t determine that yet. We have information that will be presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee. And they will call in the witnesses as necessary and it’ll be done in a bipartisan manner, in a fair process. And they will evaluate that. So, not jumping to any conclusions. We don’t have the full story yet,” Ernst said, then deciding to move on to another question.

Congressional Republicans have largely remained silent on the issue of the impeachment inquiry into Trump if they haven’t issued a strong defense of the President.

Democrats are looking into a phone call Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, which is included in the whistleblower complaint. During the conversation, Trump requested that Ukraine investigate the Bidens over baseless corruption claims and asked Zelensky to work with his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General Bill Barr. The phone call had come as Trump was withholding military aid to Ukraine, which Trump admitted to last month, but said the reason was he was waiting for European allies to contribute their fair share.

Trump has sought to discredit the whistleblower, though his top intelligence officials have concluded the complaint is credible.

The other senator from Iowa, Republican Chuck Grassley, a longtime champion of whistleblowers, released a statement on Tuesday warning that “no one should be making judgments or pronouncements without hearing from the whistleblower first and carefully following up on the facts.”

Democrats seized on Trump’s comments Wednesday about China and Ukraine as yet more evidence to bolster their case for impeachment, while Trump has asserted that he has the “absolute right” to ask other countries to investigate corruption.