BISMARCK - North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp announced Thursday, Oct. 4, she will vote against Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, questioning his temperament and declaring she believed the woman who accused him of sexual assault.
Heitkamp brushed off the potential political consequences of her decision, which came just 33 days before the Nov. 6 election. She’s locked in a competitive race with Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer in a deeply red state, and the contest’s outcome could determine which party controls the Senate.
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In a lengthy statement and conference call with reporters, Heitkamp cited Kavanaugh’s performance at last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examining sexual assault allegations against him. Kavanaugh forcefully denied the accusations and clashed with Democrats on the committee.
“In addition to the concerns about his past conduct, last Thursday’s hearing called into question Judge Kavanaugh’s current temperament, honesty, and impartiality,” Heitkamp said in her statement. “These are critical traits for any nominee to serve on the highest court in our country.”
Heitkamp said she believed Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assaulting her while they were both in high school in the early 1980s and testified before the committee last week. Heitkamp, a former North Dakota attorney general, said her work fighting sexual assault and domestic violence helped inform her decision, as did stories from people in her personal life.
Heitkamp said she underwent a thorough decision-making process and argued others who already announced their positions did so “prematurely.” Cramer announced his support of Kavanaugh the night President Donald Trump named the nominee in July, and Republican Sen. John Hoeven reaffirmed his backing after last week’s hearing.
On Thursday senators reviewed a new FBI report on the nominee, and a procedural vote is expected Friday, helping prompt the postponement of the first debate between Heitkamp and Cramer that was scheduled for that night in Fargo. Prairie Public said it was working to reschedule the matchup.
Heitkamp said the FBI report “created inconsistencies” with Kavanaugh’s prior statements. She said Kavanaugh was “overly evasive” and had a “selective memory” under questioning, and she singled out an exchange with Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
“Amy was simply asking a question … and he reacted in a very negative, evasive way,” Heitkamp said. “That was a moment in the hearing where I really began to question his judicial temperament.”
Heitkamp had been among a bipartisan group of senators who had not announced how they would vote on Kavanaugh. She voted in favor of Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
Cramer said in an interview he was surprised by Heitkamp’s decision but downplayed its effect on his electoral chances because he predicted she would lose votes whether she supported or opposed Kavanaugh. Polling has indicated North Dakotans favor Kavanaugh, but Heitkamp said calls to her office were fairly even.
“She’s made her whole brand about voting with Donald Trump when he’s right for North Dakota, being independent and nonpartisan (and) bipartisan,” Cramer said. “And she abandoned all that today.”
Cramer, who previously called Ford’s allegations “absurd,” said Thursday Kavanaugh’s story appeared “more verifiable” than Ford’s. Republican groups pounced on Heitkamp’s decision by accusing her of siding with national Democrats and predicting it would kill her chances for a second term.
Heitkamp maintained her decision was not a political one.
“The politically expedient thing for me to do would be to vote yes,” she told reporters. “But I have to get up every morning and look at myself in the mirror.”