GRAND FORKS-U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp used a developing trade war Wednesday to draw a line between her and her opponent, U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, as she seeks re-election.
"The policies that are being advanced by Kevin Cramer-of allowing these tariffs to continue to escalate and allowing the trade war to escalate-present a threat to North Dakota," Heitkamp, a Democrat, said during an editorial meeting with the Grand Forks newspaper..
Cramer, a Republican, recently held a meeting in Grafton, N.D., to discuss trade with residents and local agriculture leaders. He brought Peter Davidson, chief counsel to the U.S. Commerce Department, who reassured attendees the trade war is a calculated effort to modernize and improve trade deals with the country's strongest partners.
Two of Davidson's most optimistic points included an expected deal with Mexico by September and another with the European Union in the near future.
"Maybe this will sound mean, but I'm not convinced the Department of Commerce really understands what's happening in the soybean market," Heitkamp said. "The Mexican ambassador tells me 'we're not going to do a deal without Canada.'"
Beyond soybeans, the country can't forget steel tariffs still in place against Canada, she said.
"We have tariffs that he's (President Donald Trump) imposed on imported steel, 25 percent," she said. "Aluminum it's 10 (percent). Huge cost increase. Everybody says if you buy domestic, you won't have to pay the tax. Well, the whole idea behind tariffs is you raise domestic prices, right? So you can grow a dometic industry."
Heitkamp acknowledged tariffs seem popular among North Dakotans, who want to see action taken.
"People don't look at them like taxes," she said. "I get that you want action. I want action, too. I've got a different plan of attack, without imposing taxes on our ag equipment manufacturing industry, without having retaliatory taxes on our farmers."
Heitkamp said she agreed with Cramer's and Trump's end goal of more fair trading standards and an eventual zero tariffs.
"I don't agree with how we're getting there with this blunt instrument of a tariff," she said. "I think that's one of the reasons why the Koch brothers are reluctant to play in this race."
In reference to the high profile politicians and government officials Cramer has brought to North Dakota, Heitkamp said, "Clearly, the message is being sent that this is about supporting the president."
"Who do you want me to bring?" she asked with a laugh.
She referred to a "national award for the wind industry" she received Wednesday at an Xcel Energy-owned wind farm in Courtenay, N.D.
"People who can certify the work that I've done are much more important to me than some big name," she said. "So the general counsel of commerce-did he mention one thing that Kevin's done to try and market soybeans?"