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Heitkamp calls Senate tenure an 'honor' in farewell speech

Heitkamp, 63, said her "work isn't done," but she didn't specify what she would do next. She told the Bismarck Tribune last week she would return to North Dakota.

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North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp gives her farewell speech on the U.S. Senate floor Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018 in this screenshot of a livestream of the address.

BISMARCK โ€” Heidi Heitkamp touted her accomplishments during six years as a Democratic U.S. senator from North Dakota while challenging her colleagues to rise above partisan politics in her farewell speech Tuesday, Dec. 11.

Heitkamp will leave office early next year after Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer dashed her hopes for a second term a month ago.

In an emotional speech that lasted more than 30 minutes on the Senate floor, Heitkamp highlighted her efforts to lift the ban on crude oil exports, pass farm legislation and fight human trafficking, among other deeds. She touched on her life story that started in tiny Mantador, N.D., and included a breast cancer diagnosis during an unsuccessful run for governor nearly two decades ago.

Heitkamp choked up while she recalled taking the pledge of allegiance when she first arrived in the U.S. Senate and being overwhelmed that a "pudgy Democrat" from a small North Dakota town would ascend to one of the highest offices in the country.

"The fact I got to serve in the Senate is part of a great American story," she said.

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Heitkamp, 63, said her "work isn't done," but she didn't specify what she would do next. She told the Bismarck Tribune last week she would return to North Dakota.

"And I will continue to do this work from a different vantage point," she said Tuesday.

Heitkamp's speech was followed by a bipartisan chorus of praise from her colleagues. Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said her western neighbor battled health problems, navigated the politics of representing a conservative state and bucked her own party.

"Every single moment, she (overcame) those challenges because Heidi Heitkamp is a leader," she said.

North Dakota Republican Sen. John Hoeven, who defeated Heitkamp in the 2000 race for governor, thanked her for her service.

"We've been able to work together on a variety of issues important to our home state and we've been able to make progress on behalf of the people of North Dakota as well as the country," he said, pointing to the new farm bill the two helped negotiate.

Heitkamp flagged challenges facing the country, including income disparity, rising debts and deficits, addiction issues and a trade war that she frequently railed against during this year's campaign. She also warned of "big clouds" approaching rural America and called on Congress to work on Native American issues.

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But Heitkamp cited her work with lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum in arguing there are still opportunities for bipartisan compromise amid a divisive political atmosphere.

"We need to look up and we need to look bigger so that Congress is creating a solid future for our children and our grandchildren," she said.

Heitkamp said lawmakers need to use "facts and judgment" rather than polls to make decisions that could have long-lasting effects. It was a similar argument she made in casting her vote against Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court late in the campaign.

"We need members of Congress who are willing to take tough votes because it's the right thing to do, even if it puts their re-election in jeopardy," she said.

Heitkamp is a former North Dakota tax commissioner and attorney general who was narrowly elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012. As the only Democrat elected to statewide office in a reliably red state, she was a top target for Republicans aiming to maintain their Senate majority.

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