CEDAR FALLS — During a town hall meeting in Cedar Falls Wednesday morning, Sen. Joni Ernst became emotional fielding questions about recent public reports of her divorce.
At the University of Northern Iowa, Ernst, 48, took questions from media outlets, primarily about allegations she was physically abused by her now-ex-husband, Gail Ernst.
"What happened in our private life has now become public consumption," she said. "I am a survivor."
Ernst's divorce was announced in August 2018, and the court records were recently unsealed. She said she thought those records would remain sealed.
"I would love to point the finger and say 'somebody screwed up, somebody leaked,' but they're out there, and now I will deal with that. But what I want people to understand is that I am the same person as I was last week," Ernst said through tears. "You just know more about what's inside of me now."
Ernst said it's difficult to talk about her divorce and the abuse alleged in court documents. On Tuesday, a judge resealed some of those documents.
"I fully believe that survivors have the right to keep their stories to themselves if they don't want to share those stories, or are not ready to share those stories," Ernst said. "Unfortunately I have been forced to share my story."
Ernst said she wouldn't comment further, other than to say she wants to be the best senator she can be.
"I was not ready to talk about my situation and unfortunately my personal life is now out for everybody to see," she said. "A lot of those incidents in my past have influenced the types of policies that I work on."
The court documents also alleged Ernst and her husband both had affairs while Ernst was deployed.
Ernst denied that.
"I was a company commander overseas and took that job very, very seriously," she said. "The allegation is not true."
She went on to say she's passionate about getting the Violence Against Women Act reauthorized.
"We have to modernize it, we have to reauthorize it," she said. "It was allowed to expire last fall and that shouldn't have happened."
A skeleton crowd was in attendance at UNI's Lang Hall as a snow storm dropped several inches of snow outside.
Most of the questions from the public focused on the government shutdown.
“We need to see the government shutdown end,” Ernst said.
Ernst will return to Washington D.C. Wednesday evening to cast her vote on a bill in the Senate that could end the shutdown. The legislation will combine appropriations bills and proposals to fund Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) with funding for border security.
“It is a compromise bill,” Ernst said. “Hopefully we’ll have consensus and can open the government again.”
The Senate hasn’t taken up several House of Representative bills to reopen the government because it has to debate each bill with a required number of hours, she said.
“In order to have anything signed by the president, he has said he wants to see funding for border security, so that needs to be included,” Ernst said.
Ernst is hopeful the bill will be passed and has heard from many of her constituents pushing for the government to be reopened, she said.
“People are very anxious. Let’s move the bill, let’s see if it works. It provides something for everyone, but not everyone is going to be happy.”