Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, criticized former President Donald Trump on Sunday for his use of the word “hostages” to describe his supporters who were imprisoned in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, saying there’s “no comparison” between their incarceration and the plight of those taken hostage by Hamas after the terrorist group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
At an event in Iowa last week, Trump said President Joe Biden “ought to release the J6 hostages. They’ve suffered,” using the abbreviation for Jan. 6. “I call them hostages,” he said. “Some people call them prisoners. I call them hostages. Release the J6 hostages, Joe. Release them, Joe. You can do it real easy, Joe.”
On NBC News’ “Meet the Press” on Sunday, moderator Kristen Welker asked Ernst, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who recently traveled to the Middle East with other lawmakers as part of efforts to secure the release of remaining American hostages, whether the former president’s characterization of the Jan. 6 rioters bothers her.
“It does in this context because we do have American hostages that are being held against their will all around the globe, and especially if you look at the innocents that were attacked and kidnapped on Oct. 7,” Ernst said. “We are approaching nearly 100 days. These are people that have been taken. They’re held in tunnels with terrorists, they are being tortured, they have been raped, they have been denied medication. So equating the two, there is no comparison.”
“The hostages are hostages,” she added. “I would certainly, you know, ask to speak to any of their families and see the anguish and the pain of not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead. There is a very clear difference.”
Trump’s remarks have also drawn criticism from the families of those being held hostage by Hamas. The former president has additionally raised the possibility of pardons for Jan. 6 rioters.
Asked on Sunday whether she would be against pardoning those convicted for participating in the Jan. 6 riot, Ernst said, “I am not opposed to that. That is a president’s prerogative.”
After Welker noted that hundreds of the Jan. 6 rioters have pleaded guilty to crimes in connection with the Capitol attack, Ernst said she was not saying she would support pardoning them, but repeated her assertion that it is a president’s prerogative to do so.
“We have seen many presidents through the years that have pardoned many others. And so if Donald Trump chooses to do that as our next president of the United States, again, that will be his decision,” she said.
When Welker pressed her again on her stance, noting that she had called the rioters insurrectionists, Ernst denied having used the term.
In an op-ed published in the Des Moines Register days after the Capitol attack, Ernst wrote that “storming the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to influence elected officials — an insurrection as many have called it — is not, and will never be, a peaceful protest.” She also wrote that the people who “lawlessly breached the Capitol” were a “violent mob” and “criminals” who “should all be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The majority of the alleged rioters, many of whom were charged with misdemeanors, have been released pending trial. Most of those who remain in prison pleaded guilty to crimes or were found guilty by juries.