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Kevin Cramer says Trump's latest Charlottesville remarks were 'fine'

Rep. Kevin Cramer answers questions from the Grand Forks Herald editorial board Wednesday afternoon. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., downplayed President Donald Trump's latest remarks on violence in Charlottesville, Va., calling them "fine"—though he said the president had gone "strategically wrong" in offering his opinion on the removal of statues celebrating the Confederacy.

"I thought his remarks yesterday were fine," Cramer said during a Wednesday interview with the Herald's editorial board, praising a comment that Confederate statues should be preserved or removed on a local, case-by-case basis. But he said the president erred by wading into a discussion that questioned what other historical statues might be removed next.

Trump's remarks, made from New York on Tuesday, referred to the white supremacist rally in Virginia this past weekend that descended into violence between ralliers and counter-protesters. One woman was killed after a rally attendee drove his car into a crowd of people. Trump said there was "blame" and "very fine" persons "on both sides."

Trump has been criticized for offering an apparent equivalence between white supremacists and protesters.

"I will tell you that Donald Trump has a lot of information. He may have more intel than a lot of people have, than some people have," Cramer said of Trump's latest comments. "I think part of the problem is there's two issues to debate here. There's white supremacists—evil, lowlife, awful, period. ... Then, once you dive into the violence side, the guy who drove the car may not be related to the stuff over here, but he's a murderer."

Cramer said that if groups like Black Lives Matter "or other radical leftist groups" lashed out in violence, that's "evil" as well.

"So there's lots of blame, and I wouldn't be surprised if (Trump) could tell you, based on intel, exactly how many people on each side engaged in violence," Cramer said.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., was unimpressed with Tuesday's remarks. Like many, she read Trump's later comments in contrast with his more direct condemnation of white supremacists Monday.

"I thought his statement on Monday was better late than never, and it's unfortunate that was retracted," she said.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., also disagreed with the president's comments on Tuesday.

"We need to be consistent and clear in denouncing neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups, which is why I don't agree with the way the president handled it."

Taxes, health care

Of the major legislation Congress is still attempting to craft, Cramer is confident tax reform will be accomplished in the next 12 months and hopes proponents won't let "the perfect be the enemy of the good." He used the phrase earlier this year when he lamented Congress' difficulties agreeing on health care reform, and he's similarly hopeful leaders can agree on a Farm Bill before the end of the year.

"The whole point of a body of 435 is compromising and negotiating," he said. "It's not just selling out, it's leveraging."

But on tax reform, Cramer mentioned the "management of expectations," noting that upcoming changes will be necessarily different with Congress given that tenets Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as Obamacare, remain in place.

Cramer visited downtown Grand Forks after a stop at Grand Forks Air Force Base to meet with a high-ranking general and tour the Grand Sky tech park for unmanned aircraft. He said North Dakota's programs for unmanned aircraft are held in "high esteem" in Washington.

"Largely because the FAA knows and the Air Force knows how impressive it is," he said. "But the thing I love about it is there's always something new that we get to say that no one else did."

While speaking generally about the electoral process, Cramer brought up the "Access Hollywood" tape, released late in the presidential campaign, in which Trump was recorded making explicit comments about women. He disavowed Trump's recorded remarks—and said Trump has changed since he said them—but called his victory nonetheless a kind of "wave" that swept the country.

"As I said when I endorsed him, I expect to cringe a lot. But at least Hillary Clinton's not president, and we have a president who's done things that I don't think any other Republican would have gotten done by now," Cramer said, pointing to how quickly Trump began pushing back federal regulations regulating land, industry and the environment. "As repugnant as his exploits in the past were, and are—I mean, it's not like Hillary Clinton is an Eagle Scout."

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

(701) 780-1108