Ernst calls for Congress to fix Social Security 'behind closed doors'

Ernst calls for Congress to fix Social Security 'behind closed doors'
© Greg Nash

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay Ernst'Mike Pounce' trends on Twitter after Trump slip at GOP retreat Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Trump administration to repeal waterway protections MORE (R-Iowa) said at a recent town hall that lawmakers should discuss changes to Social Security "behind closed doors," sparking criticism from Democrats and advocacy groups. 

Ernst made the comments Saturday, according to a video posted by the Democratic super PAC American Bridge. The remarks began to receive wider attention after being reported by the liberal news website Iowa Starting Line on Wednesday.

"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," Ernst told a town hall audience in Estherville, Iowa.

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Ernst, who is running for reelection in 2020, received pushback for her remarks on social media, including from one of her four Democratic challengers.

“The only people squealing from Joni Ernst’s toxic record are Iowans who rely on Social Security,” Theresa Greenfield, a real estate executive who has launched a bid against Ernst, tweeted Wednesday. “We work hard for these earned benefits and deserve better than a senator who plays games with retirement security.”

American Bridge tweeted, "@SenJoniErnst’s plan to privatize Social Security is so toxic, she wants to keep it a secret to avoid ‘media scrutiny.’ " 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) tweeted that Ernst is "still pushing to gut Iowans’ hard-earned Social Security benefits."

"And she’s hoping to do it 'behind closed doors.' Voters are tired of her games, and in 2020, they’ll hold her accountable," the account added.

"Hiding behind closed doors doesn’t help Iowans," the state's Democratic Party wrote on Twitter. 

Social Security Works, an advocacy organization, accused Ernst of seeking to “cut our earned benefits in secret.”

Ernst spokeswoman Kelsi Daniell told The Hill in a statement Thursday that the criticism merely 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."