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Iowa's Joni Ernst pitches the GOP's top priorities (sort of)

President Biden asked, "What are Republicans for?" Mitch McConnell doesn't want to talk about it, and Joni Ernst's answer didn't much help.

During a White House press conference this week, President Joe Biden marveled at congressional Republicans' reluctance to govern. It led him to ask, "What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they're for."

What made the question especially notable was the Democrat's timing: Biden may not have been aware of this, but shortly before he made the comments, NBC News' Leigh Ann Caldwell asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell what his party's policy agenda would be if the GOP takes back control of Congress.

"That is a very good question," the Kentucky Republican responded. "And I'll let you know when we take it back."

The trouble, of course, is that Biden's question wasn't altogether rhetorical. It was against this backdrop that CNN's Jake Tapper offered Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa an opportunity to share the GOP's vision. "Generally speaking, I understand the politics; midterms tend to be referenda on the people who are running the country," the host said. "But what are three things that Republicans will do if you recapture the Senate in the midterms?"

Ernst made three points, starting with this:

"Well, I think that Republicans stand for a strong, free, and prosperous nation. And so, one, we need to tackle the issue of inflation.... Alleviating those pressures on our families would be job number one."

To be sure, inflation is a real issue creating burdens on millions of consumers, but the question was what Republicans would do if voters put them in position to govern. "Tackle inflation" sounds like a worthwhile goal, of course, but it's not a plan — and by any fair measure, GOP officials see inflation as a political "gold mine," but they have effectively nothing to offer in terms of policy solutions.

An NBC News report in November noted that Republicans ideas on the issue would have "little effect or no effect in addressing the cause of increased costs or would not materially affect the economy for years."

All of which led to Ernst's second point:

"Covid as well. We need to make sure that American families have access to testing."

Again, ending the pandemic is a worthwhile goal, as is access to Covid-19 testing, but nothing the senator said resembled a plan. It didn't help matters when she settled on her third point:

"And then as well, we need to focus on additional things like, you know, foreign relations with our allies, because obviously with national security we are under a lot of pressure right now."

No one will deny that "foreign relations" is a key issue, but Tapper asked, "[W]hat are three things that Republicans will do if you recapture the Senate in the midterms?" Taking an interest in international and diplomatic affairs is obviously important, but it's something both parties will continue to do no matter who wins in upcoming elections.

Indeed, it was hard not to notice that Ernst's goals were so generic that most Democrats could've just as easily pointed to the same vague priorities: Strengthen the recovery, address the coronavirus crisis, and focus on our foreign alliances.

Biden asked, "What are Republicans for?" McConnell doesn't want to talk about it, and Ernst's answer didn't much help.