Senate

Ernst elected to Senate GOP leadership

Victoria Sarno Jordan

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) has been elected to serve as vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference, becoming the first woman to be elected to a Senate GOP leadership position since 2010. 

Ernst, a veteran of the Iraq War who served a total of 23 years in the military, is considered a rising star among her colleagues. 

She defeated Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) in the only contested Senate Republican leadership race after months of quiet campaigning in the conference.

{mosads}Senate Republicans saw Ernst as someone who might be a better communicator for the conference on television, while Fischer garnered praise as someone who worked diligently behind the scenes to build relationships with members of GOP leadership. 

Ernst emerged as the winner after Senate Republicans met in the Old Senate Chamber on Wednesday morning to vote on the new leadership team for the 116th Congress. 

McConnell was reelected as Senate majority leader, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) was elected as majority whip, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) was elected as Senate Republican Conference chairman and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was elected as Senate Republican Policy Committee chairman. 

Ernst burst onto the national scene in 2014 with an ad recounting her upbringing on a farm where she castrated hogs and pledging that she would “make ‘em squeal” in Washington by cutting pork. 

Senate Republicans say McConnell has been eager to add a woman to his elected leadership team after he came under criticism in 2017 for not appointing a woman to a special health-care working group he created. 

A woman has not served as a member of the elected Senate GOP leadership since 2010, when Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) stepped down as vice chairwoman of the GOP conference after losing her primary race to conservative challenger Joe Miller.  

Former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) served as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee from 2007 to 2009, the highest-ranking position a woman has held in the Senate GOP leadership since Sen. Margaret Chase Smith (R-Maine) chaired the Senate Republican Conference in the early 1970s. 

Fischer and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) already serve as informal counselors on McConnell’s leadership team. 

Senate Republicans also came under scrutiny during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings over the all-male GOP membership of the Judiciary Committee.  

McConnell says one of his priorities is to recruit more women to the Judiciary panel. 

Tags Brett Kavanaugh Deb Fischer John Barrasso John Thune Joni Ernst Leadership Lisa Murkowski Republican Conference Roy Blunt Senate Shelley Moore Capito
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