Heidi Heitkamp’s New Job Is Working to Ratify a Trade Agreement She Once Described as “Disappointing”


Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who is running for re-election, talks to voters at AFL-CIO House of Labor in Bismarck, N.D., Nov. 5, 2018. Rep. Kevin Cramer, who latched onto Donald Trump even before he was president and never let go, ousted Heitkamp on Tuesday, flipping a key seat that was vital to Republican efforts to hold the Senate. (Hilary Swift/The New York Times)

According to this report from National Public Radio’s White House correspondent Tamara Keith, former Senator Heidi Heitkamp has a new gig. She’s joining an advocacy group which is backing the USMCA, the trade deal the Trump administration negotiated with Canada and Mexico to replace the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA):

It’s an interesting move for Heitkamp given how she talked about the USMCA while on the campaign trail last year.

Back when the preliminary deal was first announced in October of 2018 it won praise from our state’s Republican leaders. “I look forward to Congress approving an agreement that serves the best interests of North Dakota farmers and ranchers, who are among the best in the world and can compete with anyone on a level playing field,” Governor Doug Burgum said.

“We appreciate the administration’s resolve in securing a better deal for American industry and welcome Canada’s decision to join this agreement,” Senator John Hoeven said.

“This is a good day for the U.S. and a special day for North Dakota,” said then-Congressman Kevin Cramer, who defeated Heitkamp to win his current seat in the Senate last year.

But Heitkamp – now working for “a multimillion dollar marketing blitz” that will “sell the plan to skeptical voters and lawmakers” – last year described the deal as “disappointing.”

“The new agreement is good news for wheat growers who would no longer face an unfair Canadian grading system – a change I’ve been pushing for – but it’s disappointing the concerns of cattle ranchers and potato farmers were not addressed,” she said at the time. “Additionally, this agreement doesn’t address the steel and aluminum tariffs which are still putting North Dakota’s energy industry and agriculture manufacturing equipment companies in jeopardy.”

I suspect this sort of duplicitous posturing is why so many North Dakota voters turned their backs on Heitkamp last year.

It would be nice to know which of Heitkamp’s positions on this trade deal is the real one. Did she really think the deal was disappointing last year when she was crafting her position for the benefit of her campaign? Or is her support today, in line with the group paying her, a reflection of her true belief?

UPDATE: I asked Katharine Cooksey, a public relations representative for Trade Works for America, about the discrepancy between Heitkamp’s campaign comments about the trade deal and her current support for it. Cooksey only directed me to Heitkamp’s tweet on the matter today which isn’t exactly an explanation: