The 62-year-old senator is caught between a rock and a hard place. Leading up to the confirmation vote, Heitkamp looked to be in staunch support of Kavanaugh in order to shore up political points. The junior senator is just the latest in a long line of Democratic senators from the otherwise Republican state of North Dakota.
As such, Heitkamp often leans on her position as a bipartisan senator who is willing to reach across the aisle. This is particularly important, given North Dakota had the third largest margin of victory for Donald Trump during the 2016 Election.
When it came time to confirm President Trump’s first Supreme Court Nominee, Neil Gorsuch, last spring, Heitkamp was one of only three Democratic senators to vote yes. With Kavanaugh’s nomination under public scrutiny, it looked like Heitkamp would again side with the GOP.
But at the last minute she changed her mind, and Heitkamp voted against Kavanaugh.
When Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward with accusations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh, stark divisions were drawn along party lines. Heitkamp, embattled by the upcoming election, weighed her options carefully and scrutinized the testimony coming from both parties. Then she rewatched Kavanaugh’s testimony, specifically with the sound off.
“It’s something I do,” she told CNN. “We communicate not only with words, but with our body language and demeanor.”
What she found astounded her: an angry Brett Kavanaugh lashing out at senators who were set to determine his status on the court. Senator Heitkamp said, “I saw rage that a lot of people said, ‘well of course you’re going to see rage he’s being falsely accused,’ but it is at all times you’re to acquit yourself with a demeanor that’s becoming of the court.”
Many have attacked the senator for voting against Kavanaugh, claiming the decision showed her true colors as a hardline liberal who only wanted to prevent President Trump from doing his job. Jake Wilkins, the Communications Director for the North Dakota GOP, went so far as to accuse the senator of “[o]bstructing a qualified nominee and siding with the extremists of [her] party.”
However, Heitkamp was sure to respond by elaborating on her stance: “This isn’t a political decision. If this were a political decision for me, I certainly would be deciding this the other way.” Instead, she acted on her experience as an attorney and drew from the lessons imparted on her by her mother, a survivor of sexual assault.
Senator Heitkamp will likely lose her spot in the Senate due to her decision; a recent poll shows she is trailing Kevin Cramer by double digits. But that’s not what matters to the congresswoman.
“You know, there’s an old saying: History will judge you, but most importantly, you’ll judge yourself,” she told WDAY News. “I can’t get up in the morning and look at the life experience that I’ve had and say yes to Judge Kavanaugh.”
In the end, Senator Heitkamp made the right decision after watching Kavanaugh’s testimony. After all, she voted with her conscience and not her career in mind.
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