Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) on Tuesday said she wishes President Donald Trump "would spend more time in Washington, D.C." and host state leaders there rather than at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.An audience member at a town hall in Wall Lake, Iowa, asked Ernst about Trump's "weekends in Florida, costing us $3 million-plus in 100 days." [...]"I agree with you," Ernst said. "I do wish that he would spend more time in Washington, D.C." Ernst said she has "had the same concerns."
Three months into Donald Trump's presidency, congressional Republicans tend to offer their public support for the White House in practically every instance, which makes it all the more interesting to find exceptions. TPM reported yesterday:
She added that this has been "bothering not just me but some other members" of the Senate Republican caucus. Ernst told the audience, "We would love to see more of those State Department visits in Washington, D.C. I think it's smart that he does business in Washington, D.C. That's what we have the White House for."Asked at the same event of accusations surrounding the president's mistreatment of women, the Iowa Republican said, "I think that we have a president that has a number of flaws."This comes on the heels of Ernst calling on Trump to release his tax returns.To be sure, as political criticism goes, this is all fairly mild, and while anything's possible, I suspect it's unlikely the president will feel slighted and start rebuking Ernst with a series of furious tweets. That said, the Iowan's comments struck me as notable for a couple of reasons.The first is the rarity of high-profile Republicans speaking this way about Trump publicly. Time will tell if Ernst's comments are a sign of things to come, but a Pew Research Center poll released this week not only found a president with weak support, but also found that most GOP voters endorse Republican officials speaking out against him when they think the president is wrong, rather than backing him purely on the basis of partisan loyalty.We're not yet at the point at which Trump is so unpopular that GOP policymakers start going out of their way to distance themselves from the White House, but I wonder if Ernst's comments might offer a hint of what's to come.The other thing to keep in mind is that Ernst may represent a red-ish state, but she's faced some angry and progressive audiences lately, which has put her on the defensive. At a February town-hall event in Iowa, the conservative senator abruptly left the gathering in the face of angry constituents. An event in March wasn't much better.As a result, Ernst, ideologically one of the most far-right senators on Capitol Hill, has suddenly started looking for ways to connect with angry constituents -- calling for Trump to release his tax returns, criticizing his frequent sojourns to Florida, and expressing concern over the president's "flaws."This probably won't be enough to satisfy the president's Iowa critics -- they'll want Ernst to actually do something, not just offer mild criticism -- but if the president were riding high with a 60% approval rating, it's a safe bet that Ernst wouldn't be saying any of this.