SENATOR JONI ERNST: Oh my goodness. What an honor! And, Mark, thank you so much for that lovely introduction, and thank you to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition for honoring me tonight. Liz, thank you very much for your friendship. I treasure that truly. I also want to thank fellow recipients, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who is a dear friend and partner.
Thank you, Cory, so much. And I know the Secretary had to leave, but I told him how gracious he is, especially when the heat rounds are headed his way. He does a magnificent job in working with all of us in the United States Senate to find solutions and paths forward. So congratulations to the Secretary as well.
Folks, as a combat veteran, I understand firsthand—
Yes. Thank you, sir, very much. Go Army. Beat Navy.
Okay. As a combat veteran, I understand firsthand the importance of American leadership and the consequence of its absence, which is why the work that USGLC does is absolutely essential to the United States of America, and in a time of increased threats from emboldened adversaries, the United States must engage around the world and lead by example. And that will require robust diplomatic engagement.
The world is increasingly a dangerous place. We just heard from the Secretary that it is so. Russia continues to brutalize Ukraine, and Iran-baked Hamas has massacred more Jews in Israel than at any point since the Holocaust. America’s enemies are truly on the march, and for both of these conflicts, for me, folks, this is truly personal.
So as a young woman, I had the opportunity to get on a commercial airliner for the first time in 1989, and that plane took me to a country far away on an agricultural exchange, to a country that we know as Ukraine. Now, this was in 1989. It was still part of the Soviet Union. I was 19 years old and accompanied by 17 other students from across the state of Iowa. We were housed on a collective farm where we engaged in agricultural operations with the host families.
I had a wonderful family and someone that I consider my sister from Ukraine that I’m still in contact with today.
Now, on that collective farm, we had no running water. We were farming using horses and wagons in 1989. My family had no car. They had a bicycle that they shared amongst all the family members, and when we came together as a collective at the community house to answer questions—again, I remind you it was an agricultural exchange—we got together with all the community members. What can you imagine the first question that they asked us was? Again, it’s an ag exchange. Iowa farming versus Ukrainian farming? It was a question I was totally unprepared for, and that question was, “What is it like to be an American?” Just let that sink in. Soviet Union, 1989, as a 19-year-old woman.
So needless to say, I returned from that trip overseas, and when I got back to Iowa State University, I joined Army ROTC, because I decided we live in the most magnificent nation on the face of the planet, and so many others desire the freedoms and opportunities that we have been given, and that’s why—
Thank you. And that’s why Ukraine means so much to me. I’ve seen them fight so hard for so many decades now to become an independent nation, not to be run over by bloodthirsty Vladimir Putin and his thugs in Russia. So we must absolutely maintain our support for Ukraine and make sure that they see victory. So we’re with Ukraine.
Now, turning to Israel, in December of 2014, after I’d been elected but before I’d been sworn into the United States Senate, I visited Kibbutz Nir Oz in southern Israel by the Gaza border, and it’s one of the Kibbutzim that was savaged by Hamas on October 7th.
So I’ve been to Israel many times since then, but most recently, I visited Israel again, three days after Hamas brutal attacks on October 10th. During my visit we met with senior leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and American and Israeli families impacted by the terrorism, and there was not a single dry eye in the room as we heard their stories. As Israel fights to destroy Hamas, we must not forget about the hostages.
American, Israeli, and all of the others being held by these ruthless Iran-backed terrorists, Democrats and Republicans alike agree that the President and his administration should be doing everything in their power to secure the hostages’ safe release. So God bless them.
Friends, defeating Putin’s Russia and Iran-backed Hamas are the only outcomes we should accept in these two conflicts. To make this a reality, the United States must return to being the arsenal of democracy, producing enough weapons to protect ourselves and our allies and partners. I do believe in deterrence. I would rather deter than go to war. But with that being said, I believe in Ronald Reagan’s peace through strength, and we must be strong.
So as many of you know, my home state of Iowa plays a major role in ammunition, leading in production nationwide for the 155 shells that you will hear about being used in Ukraine. We’re also a global leader in food production, which is essential to national security and stability. Countries that are food insecure are at risk of destabilization and terrorism, providing a vacuum for our enemies to create chaos. America cannot work alone to achieve global food security. The effort of nonprofits is absolutely critical. They are the ones on the ground delivering this lifesaving aid. So to all of our NGOs and our nonprofits being represented here tonight, thank you for your tireless and lifesaving efforts. I appreciate you.
While the United States will always play a role in food aid, our international partners can and must do more to share the burden of the global humanitarian and economic need. And in Congress, I have worked diligently to streamline USAID’s ability to support Ukraine and the world. This has not been a painless process, but we have made some progress, including additional staff, to more quickly move aid out the door.
This past weekend, I had the privilege of being on a panel at the Reagan National Defense Forum, an event that I’ve come to love over the years. Each year, the Reagan Institute does a survey to better understand how the American people feel about top defense, national security, and foreign policy issues. This year’s survey found that only about 42 percent of Americans think the United States needs to be more engaged and take the lead in the world. That’s a drop from over 50 percent in 2019. And, friends, I think all of us here in this room agree that now is not the time for America to shrink back.
Now is the time for strong American leadership. We must not allow our adversaries to become further emboldened while alienating some of our greatest allies. I believe in America first always but never America alone.
As America, we must be the great convener around the globe who brings like-minded partners to the table to ensure the protection of our homeland, first and foremost, and the stability of the world. So again, thank you so much for hosting me tonight, and it truly is an honor to be with you. May God bless you, the families of those that are still being held hostage by Hamas, and may God bless our servicemembers around the world fighting to keep America the freest and the strongest nation on the face of the planet. God bless you all. Thank you all so much for the honor. It’s a privilege.