It Sure Seems Like Senator Kevin Cramer Is Throwing Shade at His Predecessor Heidi Heitkamp Over Delaying Senate Confirmations


U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Cramer (R) debates Heidi Heitkamp (D) on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, at North Dakota State University. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

North Dakota got some good news on Senate nominations this week.

Last month I wrote in a print column that North Dakota was just months away from having no full-time federal judges. This week we learned that Grand Forks attorney Peter Welte has been scheduled for a confirmation hearing this week.

Also, North Dakota hasn’t had an appointed U.S. Attorney since Obama appointee Tim Purdon left the job early to cash in on a gig at a private law firm. Former Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley, who served in that position under President George W. Bush, was nominated during the Congress but the Senate never acted on it. News this week is that Wrigley has been renominated.

But what’s interesting is the way Senator Kevin Cramer has been reacting to this news.

In his press release on the news of Welte’s confirmation hearing, Cramer threw some shade at unnamed “Senators” who stall nominations “under the cloak of anonymity.”

“This news is a reminder that the Senate nomination process needs reform. Too often Senators- under the cloak of anonymity- stall the nominations of qualified candidates for reasons they’ll only discuss behind closed doors. That has to change. While I respect the important institutional role the Senate plays, the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body needs to get better at deliberating. I will continue working with my colleagues to reform the way we handle nominations.”

In his press release on Wrigley, Cramer took a jab at the the “failures of the 115th Congress.”

“As we were promised, the White House has re-nominated Drew Wrigley. This is good news for the people of North Dakota and all who stand for justice and the rule of law. Drew is an outstanding nominee with a wealth of experience, and I urge my colleagues to act quickly in order to make up for the failures of the 115th Congress.”

These jabs, particularly the one in the Welte release, are almost certainly directed at Cramer’s predecessor Heidi Heitkamp.

Welte wasn’t nominated until after Heitkamp lost the election, but Wrigley was. His nomination has been stalled for some time now, and the reasons for why have been more than a little opaque. Heitkamp offered no public objections to his confirmation while she was in office, but the buzz in state political circles was that she was obstructing it behind the scenes.

Perhaps as payback to Republicans who put Purdon – who acted as a surrogate for Heitkamp during the campaign last year – through the wringer during his confirmation process.

Of course, Purdon was a controversial pick, with no background as a prosecutor to speak of but a lengthy history as a political operative. He was a sitting member of the Democratic National Committee when Obama nominated him to the position. You can argue, reasonably, that the scrutiny of Purdon was warranted.

Also, the objections to Purdon were made publicly, and he still got his confirmation hearing.

Wrigley, on the other hand, has done this job before, yet the delays in his confirmation have been a mystery.

Though Heitkamp worked very hard to perpetuate a “North Dakota nice” public image, her political career has been colored by a particularly vicious brand of vindictive pettiness. Which makes the idea that she was holding up Wrigley’s confirmation entirely believable.

I reached out to Cramer spokesman Jake Wilkins to ask him if his boss was throwing shade at Heitkamp in these press releases. “No comment,” was all he’d give me.