Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat from North Dakota, joined me this morning:
HH: So I’m so pleased Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat of North Dakota, joins me this morning. Senator, Joni Ernst was on earlier, but you’re my second and my first Democrat of the day. Welcome.
Sen. H: Well, thanks for having me on. Joni’s a great gal. We’ve done a lot of great work in agriculture together. So…
HH: I had assumed. We’ll talk about that on…
Sen. H: You have the women brain trust in agriculture on today.
HH: Well, it’s international women’s day, and that’s why I did it.
Sen. H: There you go.
HH: There you go.
Sen. H: There you go.
HH: Now first time guests, I always ask the same two questions right out of the box. They’re not trick questions. You’re on Homeland Security, so this is really cool. Have you read The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright?
Sen. H: No.
HH: I couldn’t urge you to do it more. It’s the most important book in my worldview.
Sen. H: Okay.
HH: And number two, do you think Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy?
Sen. H: Yes.
HH: Bingo. One out of two’s not bad. Let’s get down to specifics. Oh, there’s a third question for senators. Rick…
Sen. H: Do any of your listeners know who Alger Hiss is?
HH: They almost all do. Some of them pretend not to know, and they don’t, and then it’s a real nightmare for them. But you were attorney general of the state of North Dakota. So I know you knew that.
Sen. H: I was.
HH: Yeah, so…
Sen. H: Well, that, plus I was a history major.
HH: See, thank God someone knows this.
Sen. H: There you go.
HH: There you go. Let me talk to you also, you’re a senator, I ask all senators about Rick Grenell. Not only is he a personal friend, but Germany is the most important non-nuclear country in the world. He’s been on a hold for a year because of a secret hold on him.
Sen. H: Yeah.
HH: Is it you? Are you the one with the hold?
Sen. H: No, I’m not.
HH: What do you think about that?
Sen. H: You know, I don’t like holds. I mean, I very, very rarely use them, because I think that it is so unfair. We’ve got bills, I had a bill once that had 90 co-sponsors, and I couldn’t get it across, because one person got crabby at it. I mean, this is why the place doesn’t function the way it needs to, so I don’t put holds on people.
HH: Would you go down to the floor and make a speech on behalf of getting an ambassador to Germany? They’ve had a crisis for a year. They’ve got a new government. They’re going to get a new chancellor. We’ve got to get an ambassador there.
Sen. H: Well, I don’t disagree. You know where else we need an ambassador, Hugh? To South Korea.
HH: And Turkey.
Sen. H: We can’t, we don’t have an ambassador right now in South Korea. We don’t in Turkey. I mean, we didn’t, you know, I wrote a letter asking for a special envoy to China on the Korean Peninsula, but you know, if you don’t have career people, we just lost the top career person on South Korea and North Korea out of the State Department, and we don’t have an ambassador. I mean, hello.
HH: Well, these are the big three. They’re Turkey, South Korea and Germany. And if you go to your leader and say Mr. Schumer, we’ve got to get these guys a vote, or gals. Would you do that?
Sen. H: Well, I mean, I’ve not been, I have not been one of those people holding up any of this. As you know, I voted for most of the appointees, because I think elections matter and people should get their team. You know, there’s been some that I have not voted for, because I don’t think they reflect North Dakota values. I don’t think that they were good at their job. A lot of them have already gone. And so you know…
HH: Would you vote for Grenell?
Sen. H: I’m not…huh?
HH: Would you vote for Grenell?
Sen. H: Well, I haven’t actually looked at it. But you know, if he gets, if he gets a floor vote, he’ll pass, obviously.
HH: Okay, I’ll come back around. I want to get to tariffs, because that’s really what I want to talk to you about. I am a free trader. I think we’re going to get hammered by the EU today. I am pleased that there’ll be some exemptions. Peter Navarro, by the way, is a no growth Democrat from San Diego. I’ve known him for 20 years. Lost for mayor, lost for Congress with Hillary campaigning with him, lost for county commissioner, been hanging out in a tenured position at UCI writing crazy books for 20 years, very affable, very friendly, but he’s on your team. He’s not on my team. And he’s done us a terrible disservice. Do you agree with me?
Sen. H: Well, one thing that I do agree with you on is that this is absolutely folly. I have been probably the most free trade Democrat in my side of the caucus. I remind people that the United States of America is only 5% and less of the global population. If you’re not trading, you’re going to lose globally. And you know, this idea that well, he’s a globalist, I don’t know what that means in the world today, but I do know that we live in a global economy, and if you’re not thinking about the global economy, you’re going to fail. And our economy long term is going to fail. So you know, today our allies are going to be signing TPP. We’re not in TPP. Everybody’s ignored that because of these tariffs. But you know, when you said there’s going to be exemptions, exemptions for 30 days to jam the renegotiation of NAFTA, which has dramatic impact on North Dakota. You know, so does this steel and aluminum tariff. We’re the state that has 10%, or that we’re the 10th highest impact on these tariffs, because we import more than what we export. Obviously, we put a lot of pipe in the ground in the oil industry. And we’re large equipment manufacturers. And so you know, I don’t know how to tell you that this is absolutely the wrong directly, and obviously you and I agree. So we aren’t going to have much of a debate.
HH: No, we’re not.
Sen. H: But I don’t know that, I don’t know, you know, one thing I resist when people say oh, it’s Peter Navarro or Gary Cohn, this is the President’s decision. The President has been surrounded by both sides of…
HH: Have you called him?
Sen. H: I have talked repeatedly to Gary Cohn about this. I have almost a standing call with Bob Lighthizer, who we haven’t heard from at all, our trade rep.
HH: Oh, yeah, from Ashtabula, Ohio, who he should know better, because he lives on the Lake, and the Lake is international trade, and Canada’s right over there, and you can almost see it and walk it when it’s frozen. He should know better. Everyone should know better. But you need to call the President, Senator Heitkamp, and tell him.
Sen. H: Well, I don’t think, I don’t think it will help if I call the President. If the President’s not going to listen to Gary Cohn, if he’s not going to listen to Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, I don’t know why he’d listen to me.
HH: Well, can you go over and talk to Sherrod Brown, because Sherrod’s the only senator who’s clapping. It’s like the only guy in the whole place who’s clapping, and he’s so wrong. Have you talked to Sherrod about this? He’s on your team.
Sen. H: Well, you know what’s interesting about that is you know, Sherrod’s going to make the decisions that Sherrod makes. I don’t always agree with him, but we’re working together to try and do some things on pensions, which is important to me and important to my constituents. And so this is, you know, Hugh, let’s focus on who’s making the decision here. The President’s making the decision. The President, who’s a Republican, is making a decision that will have dramatic impacts on our trading partners, and could potentially slow down, if not halt, the growth of manufacturing in this country. The President’s responsible for this decision, despite all warnings to the other side.
HH: Now Senator…
Sen. H: It’s going to be lovely. It’s going to be lovely, Hugh.
HH: Axios has, Axios has a new poll out today that says the President’s approval rating in North Dakota is 60%.
Sen. H: Yeah, I believe that.
HH: And so you’re going up against a president who is 60% popular. How’s that do, you’re up for reelection. It’s going to be a tough campaign. I think Ken Cramer, has he declared? Is Cramer going to be your opponent?
Sen. H: Yeah, Kevin Cramer is in the race. He was out, and then he’s in.
HH: And you two are buddies, right? You get along fine, but he’s going to run against you. It’ll be the most polite Senate campaign in America, actually.
Sen. H: Well, (laughing) I don’t know about that, but I do know that you know, one thing that I love is when people say we need more bipartisanship. Well, if you want more bipartisanship, you’ve got to be bipartisan. And I think that’s what North Dakota is. North Dakota’s not going to look at that letter behind your name. North Dakota’s going to look at results. And you know, let me just, you know, toot the horn for just a little bit.
HH: Please do.
Sen. H: You know, oil exports…
HH: Please do.
Sen. H: Oil exports, which has been absolutely a Godsend to the oil industry, it’s been great for our trade imbalance, it’s been great for our trading partners, and for free, the free world, you know, what would not have happened if I hadn’t been in the caucus, and it wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t fought so hard. And it has had a dramatic impact. You take a look at 45Q, which you may not like, because it’s a tax credit for carbon capture-sequestration, but it’s an essential ingredient to advancing the future of coal-driven electricity. Take a look at the farm bill. Take a look at, you know, the work that we’ve done on a lot of the agricultural issues. And some you wouldn’t agree with on RFS, wind power. I mean, you know, one thing I would tell you is that in North Dakota, I think people care about getting things done. They care about whether you come not being a partisan, but whether you come being a, somebody who wants results and is willing to talk to anybody to get them.
HH: You know, Senator, a lot of my pals call me squishy right, so you don’t have to worry about me. For example, I’d sign the Florida gun law that’s going to Rick Scott today. Would you? Do you think he should sign that law?
Sen. H: I think that one of the things that’s gotten lost in all of this discussion about gun debates is the 10th Amendment. I think that if that’s a decision he wants to make for his state, he’s got a right to make it. And so…
HH: Because it raises the age to 21…
Sen. H: Age…
HH: …to buy a weapon.
Sen. H: Right.
HH: Do you, and I think that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that.
Sen. H: And it bans bump stocks. It bans bump stocks.
HH: And so are you okay with raising it to 21?
Sen. H: I think that in North Dakota, one of the things that I would be concerned about is definitional. I mean, a lot of hunting rifles that 18 year olds would use to go deer hunting may in fact fall in that category. So you know, I think the devil is always in the details as it relates to any of these issues, but fundamentally, at a mile high view, I think that the governor and the legislature in Florida have a right to make a decision on what gun laws are going to be in the state of Florida.
HH: Let’s get to the mile high view on banking de-reg, because here, we agree. The, my old buddy, Barney Frank from Winthrop House at Harvard screwed up the economy massively with Chris Dodd, with Dodd-Frank. And you’re on the verge of doing some repair work. Tell us about that.
Sen. H: Well, you know, this is, this has been too big to fail, and take a look at what’s happened since Dodd-Frank. The bigger institutions have gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. And what’s happened is the smaller institutions have contracted, and they’ve found it difficult to compete, because they can’t afford the compliance costs. And so my goal in coming to banking from the very beginning was to get reg relief for the small institutions so that we can get relationship banking into my communities. You know, I tell a story about Lincoln State Bank. It’s the first place I ever banked. You know, they did not hurt the economy. Nothing that they could do could affect the economy. But yet they have all these regulations piled on them, because of what happened in ’08.
HH: Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s crazy.
Sen. H: It’s nuts.
HH: It’s crazy. It’s nuts.
Sen. H: And so we’ve been working to kind of fashion a…
HH: But isn’t Elizabeth Warren mad at you? Isn’t…
Sen. H: She sure is.
HH: She is?
Sen. H: She sure is.
HH: So you’re going to lose the progressive left?
Sen. H: But you know, you know the one thing that I would say is she has her perspective and her point of view, but the truth will prevail. And you know, we’re going to spend a lot of time correcting the myths, correcting the misstatements about this bill as it relates to, certainly the four largest institutions, but also the regional banks. You know, we did, we moved an assumption, which was that $50 billion, a bank, anything above that could be systemically risky. We said look, unless you can prove that something below $250 is systemically risky, you can’t regulate them the way you would regulate the big banks. But they still have qualified mortgage standards, they still have liquidity standards. They’re still going to be subject to stress tests, so there’s a whole lot of regulation that came from Dodd-Frank that is still being imposed on banks in that category. And you don’t hear her talk about that.
HH: All right, let me finish…
Sen. H: Instead, you hear her talk about the $50 designation.
HH: We’ve got two minutes left, and I want to talk to you, you are a former attorney general, as is Scott Pruitt.
Sen. H: I am.
HH: …who’s a friend of mine, as is Mark Brnovich in Arizona is a friend of mine. Former attorneys general know what’s going on. Would you get your caucus to stop with the nonsense beating up on Scott Pruitt? You know he’s a fine lawyer. You probably worked with him. Would you just tell them that’s just crazy talk?
Sen. H: Why is that, Scott Pruitt is a guy who runs the Environmental Protection Agency. Scott Pruitt’s going to do what Scott Pruitt does. I mean, I don’t know, you know, it’s like they’re beating up on him. You know, he should not, he should not be flying the way he’s flying. He shouldn’t be spending money the way he’s spending money. If it were happening on the other…
Sen. H: Hey, hey, hey. If it were happening on the other side, you would be like oh, my gosh…
HH: Not once have I ever brought up anyone flying because of security issues the way that they fly.
Sen. H: Well…
HH: Let me close…
Sen. H: I’m just saying there’s nothing that anyone’s doing to Scott Pruitt that’s affecting his effectiveness as the administrator of EPA.
HH: Do you support the rule to change the definition of the Waters of the U.S. to something that makes sense?
Sen. H: I do.
HH: I thought so.
Sen. H: In fact, I had a bill up to do it, because one of the concerns that I have is political fixes are temporary. Legislative fixes are important. The debate is there. I have a bill with Jim Inhofe that I would love to see move forward.
Sen. H: …that redefines what in fact is waters of the United States. The Waters of the United States is the worst…
HH: Boy, you must stand out…
Sen. H: …regulation that EPA put out.
HH: Come back, spend more time with me. But in the interim, please go see Chuck Schumer and get Grenell to Germany, and go down to the floor and say this nonsense has got to stop. We’ve got to get those rules fixed, Senator.
Sen. H: Okay, listen, hang in there, Hugh. It’s been great talking to you.
HH: Great to talk to you, Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota.
End of interview.