U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, responds to a question about veteran care during a veterans roundtable discussion Tuesday at Maquoketa City Hall.

Kevin E. Schmidt, QUAD-CITY TIMES

President Donald Trump touted some museum-quality state-sponsored discrimination Wednesday. But U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst wasn't having it.

Ernst's objections to Trump's ban on transgender Americans serving in the U.S. military is doubly notable. The Iowa Republican was a Trump ally during the campaign, regularly stumping for the tweeter-in-chief and extolling his commitment to the military. Ernst also is a combat veteran and, like Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth in Illinois, is considered an expert on military affairs.

"Americans who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be afforded that opportunity," Ernst said hours after Trump's rambling tweetstorm accusing transgender soldiers of costing the taxpayer and destabilizing military readiness. 

Yeah. That's a full-blown rebuke from Ernst who, by and large, has kept her head down as Trump slogged from one self-imposed controversy to another. 

Thing is, Trump's entire rant is bogus, a fact that must never be normalized, no matter how often it happens. It's just today's shiny distraction tossed by a desperate president whose entire administration is spiraling out of control. 

For example, Department of Defense spent $8 million last year on gender reassignment surgery, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. Ten-times that figure went toward keeping the troops supplied with Viagra and similar drugs. Ernst did, however, agree that taxpayers shouldn't be paying for gender transition surgery. By that standard, pills for impotency also should be on the table for debate. 

Either way, neither one's reproductive organs nor their gender identity has anything to do with their commitment to country or cause. One's rights, and the ability to defend them, should never be impinged based on sexual orientation. Equal protection is a constitutional bedrock. These are principles of respect for all Americans worth defending, and, in this instance, Ernst did so with gravitas. 

Ernst mustn't back down. In-party rebukes such as this — coming from accomplished veterans — stand the best chance at scuttling Trump's campaign against the LGBTQ community. 

Trump is flailing about now. His polls are sagging. His base is shrinking. Republicans in Congress are increasingly speaking out against him. All Trump can do is feed a constant drip of hate for the "others" to his most ravenous disciples. This from a man who last year wasted metric tons of oxygen prattling about his love for the troops.

Trump cares not for the estimated 4,000 soldiers and sailors whom he vilified and degraded for his own political ends. And he decided to do it on the anniversary of the racial integration of the U.S. armed forces, to boot.

The man is utterly shameless.

One can't help but wonder if Ernst regrets much of the campaign rhetoric she offered up on Trump's behalf. From attacks on POWs to Gold Star families and now assaults on men and women in uniform who, for too long, have hidden their true selves, Trump has shown total and utter disdain for thousands of America's service members.

Transgender service men and woman are Americans. Some, no doubt, are Iowans. They deserve the same admiration reserved for members of America's armed forces.

But they're just pawns to President Donald Trump, easy deflections from the massive failure that is his administration. In the past, Ernst has taken substantial heat for her silence amid Trump's mounting indiscretions. She, like many Republicans, find themselves in perilous political territory. At some point, silence or mild scoldings simply won't do.

Maybe it was because Trump picked an issue on which she's comfortable. Perhaps Ernst was genuinely offended by Trump's relegation of thousands to second-class status. Whatever the case, on Wednesday, Ernst seized on the opportunity to push back against a president willing to dehumanize men and women who serve honorably. 

This time, Sen. Joni Ernst found her voice and stood up for all Iowans. 

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, City Editor Dan Bowerman, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.

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