Ernst: Military has greatly declined over the past few years

Iowa senator hopes the president focuses on national security in his address to Congress


This is a rush transcript from "Your World," February 28, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST:  All right, we have got Senator Joni Ernst joining us now from the beautiful state of Iowa.  Of course, she will be in attendance tonight.

Senator, always very good seeing you.

SEN. JONI ERNST, R-IOWA:  Thanks so much, Neil.  Thank you.  Pleasure.

CAVUTO:  Thank you very much.

What do you make of what is at stake?  You were with the president earlier today.  You know what he wants to do.  You know how quickly he wants to do it.  Some have said that his timetable has got to be exact, doesn't it?

ERNST:  It does.  

What I'm hoping to hear tonight from the president is a focus on national security, of course, something that is near and dear to my heart.  But I want him state that we need our allies and that our allies should be joining in on this fight, whether it is against ISIS or extreme terrorism, whether it's pushing back against an aggressive Russia.


CAVUTO:  Do you want him to spell that out tonight?  Do you know if he will spell it out?  

ERNST:  I don't know if he will.

But I'm excited at the opportunity that this presents.  And I do hope that he delves into that.  I also want to hear him say that he will be strengthening our military, making sure that if we have to, our military is ready to fight tonight.  

CAVUTO:  All right, the reason why I mentioned the military and the extra spending that I know it is near and dear to you -- you have served this country very honorably.  

He was able, courtesy a couple of quick of phone calls, to dramatically cut two big government contracts, one for Air Force One and one for a fighter jet program.  And he did that just in his spare time.  

ERNST:  Yes.  

CAVUTO:  So, if he could extract the savings there -- and they potentially could be in hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars -- why give more money to defense, when you might be able to do that with the entire defense budget?  

ERNST:  Well, I think that the president can work on some agreements to negotiate prices.  And I'm glad for that.  

But, overall, we're facing a military that has rapidly declined over the past eight to 10 years.  So, whether it is troop strength, whether it is training, whether it's renewing our small arms weapons modernization programs, any of that, it is going to take a significant boost.  

CAVUTO:  Beyond what we have?  In other words, you couldn't just reprioritize some of the money that is being spent?  

ERNST:  When we have 42 percent of aircraft that can fly, the others can't, when we have a number of brigades that would not be able to deploy tonight in our Army, there are so many issues that have been spelled out by the vice chiefs.  

I'm in my third year here in the United States Senate.  And I have heard the same message over and over again every year.  The only difference is, every year, it's increasingly worse.  

CAVUTO:  Let's say the president will act on -- and that he's not going to give away and tip his hand on exactly the full ISIS plan he's getting from his generals.  

But I'm sure when you met today and you heard him out, he's talking about still the tax cut, he's talking about aggressively, you know, beefing up the military.  But we mentioned at the outset, Senator, this idea the thing is -- everything has got to roll out as planned, because some in the financial community have priced in, as I like to say, perfection, that he is going to get all of this and then some, and it's going to be retroactive tax cuts, and that the repeal and replace on ObamaCare will be done.  

If any one of these things fall behind schedule, let's say the repeal and replace ObamaCare, the tax cut stuff is delayed, right?  

ERNST:  Right.  There could be a delay.  That's possible.  

But what we're also working on through the House and the Senate is also working on repealing a number of rules and regulations that were put in place in the last several months during the Obama administration.  And I have heard from a number of business leaders, too, that have stated not only is tax reform important to getting our economy going again, but also we have got to get rid of unnecessary and over-burdensome rules and regulations.  

If we do that, that is going to be a great shot in the arm for our economy.  

CAVUTO:  Let me ask you about, these things are also about reading body language sometimes.  

And the talk is that some Democrats, hardly all, I should stress, are either opting out tonight or choosing to say nothing, some maybe that protest as he's speaking.  

What do you think of that?  What should their role be?  What message does that send?  

ERNST:  Well, I think that if they want a seat at the table, they should be willing to listen.  

They may not agree with all of the ideas that are presented, but being there in itself is a willingness to say, you know what, if my ideas are to be accepted or at least discussed at the White House, I should be there.  

CAVUTO:  Any advice for the president who can sometimes get -- you can get under his skin -- if someone yells at him or pulls a Joe Wilson "You lie" moment or whatever, what do they do?  

ERNST:  Well, I think he just maintains his calm.  

The president does have a great sense of humor.  And I hope that some people have picked up on that.  But I think that he just pushes forward, because his message is going to be reflective of what he promised our American voters moving forward.  And I think he will do a good job with that.  But, again, I want to hear more about national security.  

CAVUTO:  As you would.  As you would.  

Senator, thank you very much.  Good seeing you.

ERNST:  Thanks, Neil, very much.  Good to see you, too.  Thank you.  

CAVUTO:  We appreciate it.    


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