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Our view: Armstrong is no wide-eyed 'Mr. Smith'

Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) listens to Michael Cohen testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 27, 2019. (T.J. Kirkpatrick/Copyright 2019 The New York Times)

In an interview last week, the Herald's editorial board asked freshman U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong if he has had any "Mr. Smith moments" during his first weeks in Congress. The question referenced "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," a 1939 film about a senator from a rural state who spent his first weeks at the Capitol in a daze of wonderment and confusion.

"I walk outside to the Capitol to vote," Armstrong responded. "When you walk across and up the steps and the Statue of Freedom is there, it's pretty cool — particularly at night."

Aside from his awe of the Statue of Freedom, Armstrong hasn't seemed much like the naive (at first) Jefferson Smith, the protagonist of "Mr. Smith."

For instance, Armstrong on Wednesday sat on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which grilled President Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen. Early in the afternoon and on national television, Armstrong — a lawyer by trade — used his time to give Cohen a stern lecture about ethics.

"We talk about these indictments on tax fraud and bank fraud as if they were isolated incidents," Armstrong said. "But they're not isolated incidents of bad judgment. These were intricate, elaborate lies that needed to be held with constant deceptions, of banks, businesses, associates, accountants and potentially your family. My question is, was it exhausting keeping track of all these lies you were telling people?"

It was a dramatic moment.

Granted, Armstrong is a Republican. Generally speaking, the members of the party are working to discredit Cohen, the former self-proclaimed "fixer" for President Trump.

But even as a member of the GOP, Armstrong didn't hesitate to offer candid views — both positive and negative — of the president when we asked him during our interview last week.

First, we asked if the president receives unfair criticism.

He said the president and his administration "do not get credit for their policy successes. They have done a tremendous amount of work to take regulatory burdens off states that are either duplicative or should never have been in the federal purview to begin with. You don't just hear it from state regulators, but you hear it from the Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, coal obviously ... and western legislators with grazing rights. There have been some serious policy wins by this administration that refuse to be acknowledged."

We also asked if there are fair criticisms of the president.

"Sure. He gins it up on purpose," meaning the president courts controversy, Armstrong answered. "I think that's a fair criticism and I don't think that's going to change."

Also, Armstrong said he has concerns about the president's approach with NAFTA and the United States Mexico Canada Agreement.

"You want criticism of the president? He cannot start the clock on NAFTA until we have an idea where USMCA is at," Armstrong said. "I mean, that would be totally destructive."

Armstrong's ability to offer fair praise and critiques of the president, along with his electric showing on national TV during Wednesday's hearing, show he's off to a good start as North Dakota's lone member of the U.S. House.

He's no wide-eyed Mr. Smith.