Iowans elected Joni Ernst to the U.S. Senate in 2014 and her GOP colleagues have just elected her vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference.
It’s the first time since 2010 that a woman has been elected by her fellow Republicans to serve in a leadership role in the senate. “I think it’s long overdue,” Ernst said, with a laugh, during a Radio Iowa interview late Wednesday afternoon. “I’m glad to be there, but I’m just sorry that it took this long.”
As vice chair, Ernst will be a leading messenger for the GOP agenda in the senate. In addition, she’ll be a liaison between rank-and-file members of the senate and the top GOP leaders.
“I wasn’t asked to run for this position by leadership,” Ernst told Radio Iowa. “I was asked to run for this position by a number of my colleagues.”
Ernst was elected during a private meeting of the Republicans who’ll be serving in the U.S. Senate in January. Ernst told the group she is a “fierce competitor.”
“And I said it’s o.k. to be fierce and be a woman,” Ernst said. “We also can be extremely compassionate and caring and kind.”
Ernst suggests she may be better than some of her male colleagues at connecting with key constituencies. “Whether it’s suburban moms, that young girl out there going to college, now is out time and our opportunity to really share out message with them,” Ernst said. “By having a woman’s voice in leadership, I think we appeal to a broader group of supporters.”
Ernst indicated she’ll use her new role to push Iowa-specific issues.
“Too often, we are overlooked on matters of importance to Iowans,” Ernst said. “I see this as a really great platform to do even more for our state.”
Ernst is likely to be seeking re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2020 and this new position will give her a more visible national profile.
Republican Chuck Grassley, the other U.S. Senator from Iowa, will be the Republican with the longest tenure when the Senate convenes in January. Grassley will become the Senate President Pro Tempore because of that seniority. In that role, Grassley will be third in the line of presidential succession, behind the vice president and the speaker of the U.S. House.
Grassley is also hinting he may leave the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee and become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.