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New senator Joni Ernst of Iowa will give GOP’s State of the Union response

Joni Ernst practices her response to the State of the Union.
Joni Ernst practices her response to the State of the Union.
Mark Wilson / Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Tonight, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa will deliver the Republican Party's response to the State of the Union address. Here's some background on who Ernst is, and what she'll say.

Who is Joni Ernst?

Joni Ernst of Iowa was sworn in as a US senator earlier this month. Her political career stretches back to 2004, when she was elected as Montgomery County auditor. She won a state senate seat in 2011 and launched her bid for Iowa's open US Senate seat in 2013.

During the campaign, Ernst emphasized both her Iowa roots — famously saying in an ad that she "grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm" — and her service as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard. She won decisive victories in both the primary and general elections.

But Ernst was criticized for voicing far-right views on some issues, including nullification of federal laws and impeaching President Obama. She softened her rhetoric as 2014 went on.

What will Joni Ernst say in her State of the Union response?

According to pre-released excerpts from the speech, Ernst will tell viewers that she'd "like to have a conversation about the new Republican Congress you just elected," and how it will "change the direction Washington has been taking our country."

  • She'll say that "Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare."
  • She'll call on the president to work with Republicans on trade and tax reform. "Lets tear down trade barriers in places like Europe and the Pacific," she will say, adding, "let's simplify America's outdated and loophole-ridden tax code."
  • She'll also mention recent terrorist attacks in France, Nigeria, Canada, and Australia, and call for "a comprehensive plan to defeat" the "forces of violence and oppression."

Ernst is undeniably a rising star in the Republican Party, and this speech will provide a valuable platform introducing her to a national audience. But she's taken on a very, very tough job — since opposition parties have struggled to craft an effective response for decades. We'll see how she does tonight.

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