Sen. Joni Ernst sat on the stage at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, nothing but a table and a few bottles of water between her and an auditorium-full of constituent angst.
The chilliest response came after a question about Betsy DeVos, who was confirmed as education secretary in a historic tiebreaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence. In the vote, two Republicans voted with the 48 Democrats, saying they didn’t think DeVos was qualified for the job.
Ernst, who voted for DeVos, said the Michigan billionaire “was carefully vetted. She supports all types of education. I support all types of education.”
The answer wasn’t fully out of her mouth before it met with a loud chorus of boos.
Ernst was the latest Republican legislator verbally pummeled by the people she represents during a home-state town hall.
The town halls filled with angry constituents parallel the tea party movement that grew in prominence after Barack Obama’s election as president in 2008. As The Washington Post’s Dan Zak and Terence Samuel wrote last month, Republicans hosting town halls “are enduring protests, sharp rebukes and emotional questions about what [questioners] see as a sharp turn in governance as well as the House and Senate’s willingness to check the White House.”
That about sums up Ernst’s experience Friday night, as hundreds endured a brisk Iowa night to ask their elected senator a question — or upbraid her — about various topics, including DeVos.
DeVos has drawn sharp criticism in the few weeks she’s been education secretary.
As The Post’s Valerie Strauss wrote, within a few weeks of being confirmed, DeVos had already insulted middle school teachers, made confusing statements about Common Core state standards and made clear that her top priority is alternatives to public schools.
Last month, she stirred up more controversy when she issued a statement saying historically black colleges and universities were “pioneers of school choice” — not a reaction to racist policies that prevented blacks from going to college.
DeVos’s qualifications for the job were openly mocked on a “Saturday Night Live” skit mostly remembered for Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of White House press secretary Sean Spicer. In the skit, Spicer calls DeVos (played by Kate McKinnon) to the stage to field a complicated question about education standards:
“I don’t know anything about school, but I do think there should be a school. Probably Jesus school. And I do think it should have walls and roof and gun for potential grizzly,” before she was pushed off the stage.
Onstage Friday, Ernst, the first female veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate, was laughed at and booed for saying that climate change was natural and for her statements on health care.
She did receive a favorable response after a man expressed his disappointment that Trump didn’t release his taxes, according to Des Moines CBS-affiliate KCCI.
“I will tell you, I agree — that I think he should release his taxes,” she told the man.
Trump became the first modern-era presidential candidate to not release his tax returns. NBC’s Rachel Maddow reported on Trump’s tax returns earlier this week, reviving calls for the president to release the documents.
When Ernst said she agreed with those calls, for a moment, a hostile crowd turned warm, according to Politico.
She got a standing ovation.