Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) on Tuesday said that she’s “extremely disappointed” with the “situation” surrounding domestic abuse allegations against former White House staff secretary Rob Porter and the White House’s response to them.
“I’m not sure of the internal workings of the White House and when they found out what they found out,” Ernst said on CNN. “But I’m extremely disappointed in this situation. Abuse is never okay. It is never okay. And so I feel very bad for those women.”
Porter’s two ex-wives, Jennifer Willoughby and Colbie Holderness, accused Porter of physical abuse. Both women gave interviews last week detailing Porter’s alleged behavior, and Porter resigned on Wednesday. The White House — and in particular chief of staff John Kelly — responded to the allegations by expressing support for Porter and citing his denials, though Kelly has since pushed various different narratives about his own response.
Ernst said she is “glad” that Porter’s ex-wives “have come forward.”
“We need to send a very clear signal that it won’t be tolerated, and it won’t be tolerated with our employees,” she said, referring to abuse.
Asked whether Trump is sending that signal, Ernst said, “I think he needs to send a stronger message.”
Politico on Tuesday reported that the White House arranged an off-the-record briefing with Porter and four reporters shortly after the Daily Mail published a photo of Holderness with a black eye she said Porter gave her.
“I think you can’t justify it,” Ernst said of the briefing. “You can’t justify that.”
Ernst added that she believes the women, but hesitated to endorse a congressional investigation into the matter.
“It’s possible that that could be looked into. But how much time are we focusing on those employees, or should we be focusing on other things of a federal scale?” Ernst said. “We can raise this issue and we can talk about this issue and encourage awareness, but we also have national security issues going on that we really need to focus on.”