Liberal group to target Ernst over Social Security 'behind closed doors' comments

Liberal group to target Ernst over Social Security 'behind closed doors' comments
© Greg Nash

A liberal super PAC will release an ad campaign Thursday targeting Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Turkish media paints White House visit as Erdoğan triumph over Trump Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators at White House MORE (R-Iowa) over comments saying she'd like to discuss Social Security "behind closed doors."

American Bridge 21st Century will release 30-second and 60-second digital ads that show Ernst discussing Social Security privatization and saying she wants lawmakers to discuss the benefits program privately. 

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The group will also send text messages aimed at thousands of likely voters over age 65 in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City that say "Senator Joni Ernst wants to cut your Social Security 'behind closed doors.'"

The text messages will also link to a webpage with the 30-second ad.

"Joni Ernst, all in for Wall Street, not for you," both advertisements conclude. 

Ernst's remark about discussing Social Security in private sparked heavy criticism from the left earlier this year. 

"As various parties and members of Congress, we need to sit down behind closed doors so we're not being scrutinized by this group or the other and just have an open and honest conversation about what are some of the ideas that we have for maintaining Social Security in the future," she said during a town hall in Estherville, Iowa.

One group that criticized her at the time was American Bridge, which tweeted, "@SenJoniErnst’s plan to privatize Social Security is so toxic, she wants to keep it a secret to avoid ‘media scrutiny.’" 

Ernst spokeswoman Kelsi Daniell told The Hill in a statement at the time that the criticism illustrated the senator's point about holding such discussions in private.

"Just as Senator Ernst predicted, we can’t have honest conversations about solving problems anymore without liberals and their media allies trying to demonize it and create a faux controversy," she said. "Senator Ernst has always and will continue to stand up and fight to protect Social Security now and for generations to come."

American Bridge spokesman Zach Hudson doubled down on the criticism, telling The Hill in a statement Wednesday, "Joni Ernst knows her plan to privatize Social Security is toxic, so she wants to do it in secret.”

“We’re going to make sure seniors know the truth about her plans to subject Iowans’ retirement security to the whims of the Wall Street firms bankrolling her campaign," Hudson added. 

The Hill has reached out to Ernst's campaign for comment.

A spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee blasted the ads as a "false and desperate smear" in a statement to The Hill. 

"This is a completely false and desperate smear by an extreme left-wing Washington dark money group," said spokesperson Nathan Brand. "Iowans know that Joni fights to preserve, protect, and strengthen Social Security and Medicare for folks across the Hawkeye State."

"Meanwhile, radical Democrats are seeking to eliminate employer-based health insurance, take away tax exemptions from churches and faith-based organizations, and raise taxes on middle-class families," Brand added. 

The Cook Political Report has rated the Senate race "likely Republican."