Raucous crowd greets Ernst at veterans roundtable
MAQUOKETA, Iowa — It was billed as a veterans roundtable, but U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst heard about more than just problems with the VA here Tuesday.
A large sign-waving crowd overflowed the council chambers at City Hall, urging that the Iowa Republican “do your job” and that an investigation be launched against President Donald Trump.
Even as she entered the event, the leanings of many in the crowd were evident as they chanted, “Your last term,” before Ernst convened a panel of veterans who described their difficulties with the Veterans Administration, particularly with a program that allows vets to get care from private health care providers.
When Ernst left the meeting, some in the crowd trailed her, chanting, “Do your job” and “Shame on you."
With Congress in a recess, lawmakers in many states and districts are returning to some constituents increasingly critical of the first weeks of the Trump administration and the Republican-led Congress.
Here, much of the approximately 50-minute meeting was centered on veterans issues, but it was punctuated at times with people in the crowd shouting at Ernst or criticizing her.
Some held signs, one of which read: “You work for us + we are not happy."
At one point, Trinity Ray, a veteran from Iowa City, asked about foreign countries meddling in U.S. elections — to which Ernst responded that she was glad to get the question because she already had expressed her belief that the president needs to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ernst and other Republican senators recently sent a letter to the White House pushing the president to take a stronger stand against Putin, whom they have accused of greater belligerence.
“Russia is not our friend,” Ernst said Tuesday.
One person, however, demanded that Ernst directly address allegations regarding Russian involvement in the elections. And the crowd chanted, “Investigate Trump.”
The meeting drew probably close to 300 people, with the council chambers full and many overflowing into the lobby of City Hall.
Some members of Congress are shying away from public meetings, according to national news reports. But Ernst, speaking to reporters afterward, said she and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are holding meetings around the state and have each begun their annual tours of all 99 counties.
“We’re still holding public forums,” Ernst said.
The senator’s office pointed to three public meetings that she held last month in southwest Iowa. One was described as a town meeting, another as an economic development roundtable and the other a coffee.
Some in the audience here Tuesday, however, urged that Ernst hold town hall meetings in places like Iowa City. One woman waiting to see her didn’t think she was accessible enough.
“We want our voices to be heard,” said Gayle Hartwig of Mount Vernon.
Asked about the tenor of the meeting afterward, Ernst responded: “Everybody has the right to free speech. You can holler all you want at me. I’m the elected representative.”
Still, she said Tuesday’s event was scheduled to be a veterans roundtable. And while she said that most in the crowd were respectful, she added she is determined to continue focusing on veterans issues.
The audience cheered veterans in the crowd on several occasions and at one point chanted, “Thank you, vets.”
Some pointed questions also came from veterans.
Ed Gaudet, a veteran and service representative from Clinton County, expressed some frustration afterward, however. He said that although there were valid concerns expressed by the audience, the meeting was supposed to be about veterans issues.