Outgoing Sen. Heidi Heitkamp Discusses Tariffs And Their Impact On North Dakota

Dec 6, 2018
Originally published on December 6, 2018 7:05 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Well, speaking of hurting the U.S., big farming states are particularly concerned about U.S.-China tariffs, among those states North Dakota. And for a few more weeks, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp will represent North Dakota in the U.S. Senate. Heitkamp lost her bid for re-election last month.

You can hear her reflections on the vote that may have ended her Senate career, her no vote on now-Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh, elsewhere on the program. When I sat down with the senator earlier today, tariffs and what they say about the U.S. president imposing them were very much on her mind. Heitkamp is a moderate Democrat from a very red state who at one point was reported to be on the president's short list for agriculture secretary.

You have a very complicated relationship with President Trump, if I may describe it that way. Unlike a lot of your fellow Democrats, you do not seem to exist on this Earth for the purpose of thwarting his agenda. Do you believe Democrats should spend a lot less time attacking him and more time trying to find ways to work with him?

HEIDI HEITKAMP: I think that what Democrats have to do is try and find ways to govern that improve the conditions for people.

KELLY: Do you like President Trump?

HEITKAMP: I know him. I think that he's complicated. But I also think that he is - it - that's a tough question because it's like, do you like or not like - I mean, to me...

KELLY: There are a lot of Democrats who would not have trouble answering that question.

HEITKAMP: Yeah, that - that's probably true. What I would say is that I'm troubled by how he governs. So I don't like this kind of personality analysis and this judgment about who people are as people. I'm much more interested in what is the president doing that I think is good for the country and what is he doing that I think is bad for the country.

KELLY: Do you believe Congress is exercising an adequate check?

HEITKAMP: No, on - especially on tariffs. I think that the minute this tariff war - that the president started using tariff power, I think we should have intervened. I think that we shouldn't have let a president impose a tax, which is what a tariff is, and then unilaterally decide who's going to get their tax waived. And...

KELLY: This is something that is personal for you because of North Dakota farmers and...

HEITKAMP: Sure. But it...

KELLY: ...Soybean industry and other things.

HEITKAMP: But it also is a look-up issue. You know, I do a thing here, and I've done it with staff for six years. I say, look up. You know, what's on the horizon 20 years from now that we need to be dealing with? And this lack of engagement, you know, this unilateral intervention by one person against, you know, kind of the responsibility that we have of setting broad fiscal and economic policy here with the president, I think this - tariffs, I mean, are incredibly economically dangerous for this country. You know, I...

KELLY: Are you talking about just China or tariffs on...

HEITKAMP: No, I'm talking about all of it.

KELLY: Yeah.

HEITKAMP: I mean, people have forgotten that we still have problems in Europe. I've got edible bean companies that can't sell edible beans into Europe. I mean, so what do they grow next year? I mean, what do they know? Japan says we'll engage in a bilateral with you, but we're going to take agriculture off the table. I think that it was a mistake to pull out of TPP. If you didn't like the agreement, renegotiate it.

KELLY: Trans-Pacific Partnership.

HEITKAMP: Yeah. Yeah. So I - if there is one area that I vehemently disagree with the president, it's on how he's handling trade policy.

KELLY: That is outgoing Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat of North Dakota.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEET FOXES SONG, "IF YOU NEED TO, KEEP TIME ON ME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.