SEN. CRAMER: Thank you, Jackie. My pleasure.
MS. ALEMANY: I just wanted to start with giving you the opportunity to address the tragic events of--that we've seen in the past week. Most recently, last night, 10 people in Boulder, Colorado were gunned downed. You know, do you have any comments on this tragic situation?
SEN. CRAMER: Well, certainly, first of all, it is tragic. And it's--as tragic as it is as a nation to just see it play out on the news, it's very tragic for the individuals that are involved and, most especially, family members, loved ones of those that lost their lives. You know, all you can do is say your heart breaks for them. I sympathize with them. I'm a father who's lost a son, not in a shooting, but I know that pain and how deep that valley is.
And it's--it seems senseless, obviously, and it is. And all I can say is that our hearts go out to them, and hopefully, we--you know, as we learn more, we can bring some sort of peace that comes from at least knowing that at the end of it all there's life beyond life on this earth. But having, again, been through it, I know that it's a deep, deep valley that a lot of people are walking through today.
MS. ALEMANY: I'm so sorry to hear about your son.
I--you know, on the policy side of this, there's obviously a hot button hearing today that--you know, I don't want to use the word "coincidentally" because these scenarios happen so often. We see mass shootings happen all the time now. That--you know, I--it's not coincidental that this timing of the hearing, but there is one called "Constitutional and Common Sense Steps to Reduce Gun Violence."
SEN. CRAMER: Mm-hmm.
MS. ALEMANY: I'm wondering, have you been paying attention to this hearing, and is there any legislation that you support, generally speaking, as it relates to trying to prevent acts of gun violence that have--that we've been seeing across the country for years now?
SEN. CRAMER: Sure. So, great point, Jackie. You're right. I mean, at the end of the day, we're policymakers. The Constitution that we swear to uphold is for the entire country, not just states, or an individual state or community. That becomes part of the challenge. So constitutional solutions are the ones we have to seek because we don't want to trample the Constitution. But, is there some common sense?
I actually--one of the things that frustrates me more than anything when I see an event like this, and realizing--in fairness, I want to acknowledge it. We--at least I don't know motive yet. I don't know a lot. We don't know a lot of the facts surrounding this case. Interestingly, there is actually a suspect that seems to be--you know, seems to be quite clear that he is the person who initiated and did the shooting. That may help, when we have a suspect that's alive.
But all of that said, I--you know, I don't want to judge this one event, but in the whole, the issue of recurring, or far too often seeing, these mass shootings raises the policy questions.
One of the things that frustrates me is that in 2018, in the midst of several high-profile mass shootings, Congress did actually pass a bill and that bill was, again, constitutional. It aimed at--it was aimed at making the NICS more effective because one of the frustrations a lot of us have is that we're not adequately enforcing existing laws within our Constitution. And by enforcing, I don't just mean, you know, catching the bad guys or prosecuting the bad guys or, you know, carrying them out, but that registration, if you will, the background checks, not making it to the NICS list, the FBI not adequately vetting, local and state officials not, you know, sending in the information for people that shouldn't be eligible for a gun. And we've seen that play out in tragic ways, that sort of what I'd call regulatory laziness play out in several of these mass shootings, where people who legally acquired a gun but shouldn't have been allowed to acquire a gun. Until we get those things cleaned up, I think it's really hard to start adding more ineffective laws, especially if they breach or violate the constitutional right to carry and to bear arms.
MS. ALEMANY: Well--and I will say you are completely right that we don't yet know if the legislation that most recently passed the House would have necessarily prevented these acts of violence that we've seen in Boulder and Atlanta, but two of the bills that are now in the Senate address these loopholes that you touched upon, the "gun show loophole" along with the "Charleston loophole." So, there's--the House have recently passed, I think, last week H.R. 8, which would expand background checks and try to close that "gun show loophole." It would apply to online sales. And then there is the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 that would close the "Charleston loophole," a gap in the federal law that would let gun sales proceed without a back--a complete background check in three business--if three business days had passed. It would expand that amount of time from three days to 10 days. Do you support either of these bills?
SEN. CRAMER: You know, conceptually, I'm open to anything, Jackie. One of the things you would find out about me, there are very few times when I'd say, "I'll never do that." And so, I think you can't have an honest discussion if there are always non-starters.
That said, I can tell you that for folks back home--and, as you might imagine, North Dakota is a pretty big "Second Amendment State." We--a lot of people have guns. A lot of people enjoy their guns for recreational purposes. We don't have a lot of gun violence. You know, people know how to safely to use them. And so, they don't really see [audio distortion] to get a gun, especially if that--for example, the background checks, if they extend into areas where, you know, buying from private citizens, buying from or handing down from a parent or grandparent to a son or a daughter, those kinds of things.
With regard to the "gun show loopholes," gun shows are very popular, obviously. I think people would--people would consider that a fair bit of a breach.
But I'm--again, I don't like to judge legislation until it's right in front of us and we're looking at it closely. I think if you have an open mind and if you want to solve the problem, you have to allow everything to be on the table and then discuss it rationally, in a calm setting. That's one of the things we don't do often enough, quite honestly, in our system and in our society today.
MS. ALEMANY: So, to be clear, you are open to voting in support of both of these bills?
SEN. CRAMER: I would not be inclined to. I want to be fair; that would not be my natural inclination, but I want to hear people out. That's why we have a process that involves hearings and involves constituents listening. I spend a couple of hours every week listening to my constituents on talk radio, taking their calls, unfiltered. And so, I always reserve that opportunity before I say, absolutely not.
MS. ALEMANY: And I'm sure you've seen the public polling for years now, that Americans have overwhelmingly supported common-sense background checks. What is--why this chasm, though, between what we see from a policymaking perspective and what the American public now--
SEN. CRAMER: Well, first of all--
MS. ALEMANY: --you know, overwhelmingly want?
SEN. CRAMER: Yeah, so first of all, just now you used the term to characterize the legislation as "common sense." So maybe it's called "common sense," but common sense, of course, is a--you know, that's a judgment call. And so, I think for a lot of people, particularly in the West, particularly in big rural states like ours, they look at a poll like that and they know it doesn't--it's not necessarily reflective of then.
But the other thing that's really, really important, of course, is the Constitution itself. The Constitution isn't driven by polls. The constitutionality of something isn't driven by polls. And, it doesn't do much good to try to pass legislation that somebody deems to be unconstitutional. So that's why the discussion is more than just what's popular, what people in New York and California might think, but rather, what's constitutional and what's the basis of this incredible freedom we have in the United States.
MS. ALEMANY: So, is there any slice of passing a stricter background check on guns that you support?
SEN. CRAMER: Well, the first thing I want to see us do is, getting back to the 2018 legislation, the 2018 legislation hasn't been very well enforced since that time. It's--there still are states that aren't complying. We've provided incentives in that to try to--to incentivize that. Maybe we need to take a look at that. Maybe the incentives still aren't good enough for states to send in the information when the background check is done or when somebody that, say, suffers from, you know, a serious mental illness or has been dishonorably discharged from the military. That's the other factor in this. In some cases, you have military people who should not be allowed to have a gun because of a crime that they've committed, but they haven't been, again, put on the NICS list by the military or, you know, local sheriff departments or where--whatever it might be. I'd rather see us put more effort to that, to see, you know, whether it can work, if we're getting the right people on the NICS.
Now there's been an increase. Don't get me wrong; there's an increase in people being put on the--people's names being put on that list, but we're still missing an awful lot of them, and as a result, some crimes have been committed with guns.
MS. ALEMANY: And I just want to put a button on this conversation about--
SEN. CRAMER: Sure.
MS. ALEMANY: --gun violence. You know, for Americans who are scared at an increasing rate, students especially--
SEN. CRAMER: Mm-hmm.
MS. ALEMANY: --who are scared to--you know, in the--as we get kids back to school, to go to school and potentially face a mass shooting. What do you have to say to them about what Congress is doing--
SEN. CRAMER: Yeah.
MS. ALEMANY: --to protect them?
SEN. CRAMER: Yeah, so, important point there because I think, for example, schools, that's an area where we can definitely keep our kids more safe. We can--you know, we can put more armed people, you know, at the doors. We can require the magnetometers. We're seeing more and more of that. It seems like an infringement on the free--you know, freedom of movement and what not. But those are very minor--in my view, minor--inconveniences compared to, you know, letting the gunmen into the school. I think we can definitely harden our security in and around schools, and we ought to do that so that kids aren't only safe but that they feel safe because part of being safe is feeling safe.
But, again, many of those things, Jackie, are sort of community by community, state by state, based on their state's culture, based on people's familiarity, obviously, with law enforcement and guns. It's built on trust as much as it is on the law itself.
So, I think we can do some things at that point, but we also have to remember we are talking about the Constitution of the United States. When you ask the question, "What can Congress do," the Constitution not only guarantees the right to bear arms throughout the country, but it also gives a great deal of latitude in certain areas, and not just latitude, but responsibility and expectation that states can deal better with their problems than, say, the federal government can. And federalism is a pretty important, pretty important principle to me.
MS. ALEMANY: And the filibuster has obviously been a hot topic of conversation in recent weeks, and there are a handful of Democrats who are sort of playing this wait-and-see game to decide whether or not they want to completely scrap the procedural maneuver, depending on whether or not Republicans seem open to working with them on legislation that has been passed by the House. Currently, there are nine bills that have been passed by the House and now are going to be waiting in the Senate, which people have sort of started referring to as the "legislative graveyard." Out of those nine bills, are there any that you support?
SEN. CRAMER: Well, you'd have to go through the nine bills, I suppose, for me to know that.
MS. ALEMANY: Yeah. Well, I--
SEN. CRAMER: But [audio distortion]. Take the DREAM Act; that might be one.
MS. ALEMANY: [Audio distortion] the American Dream and Promise Act, the Equal Rights Amendment deadline removal, Violence Against Women Act, Bipartisan Background Checks Act, Enhanced Background Checks Act, For the People Act, George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, and the Equality Act.
SEN. CRAMER: Okay. So, there are a few of them there, like take the Equality Act, H.R. 1. I mean, there are some that are just really, really awful. Again, I never like to say, "non-starter," because "non-starter" means you never start a conversation. And we don't--we have the opportunity to amend bills in the Senate, and that's what we ought to be doing. We can take them up and then debate them, amend them to be more reflective of what the Senate's here for, and that is to be the cooling-off place, the more deliberative body, because the House has had almost no deliberation on any of this stuff.
But I think one of the challenges with regard to the filibuster--first of all, you said up front that Democrats were taking this wait-and see attitude to wait and see if we'll work with them. Well, the first thing we have to do to work with them is they have to introduce the legislation and have hearings, and so far, it's been all executive orders and, of course, the use of the budget reconciliation process, where there wasn't even an invitation. There's never been a public hearing on, you know, not in the House or the Senate.
So, yeah, you worry a little bit when there's this conditional wait-and see. Either the filibuster is a principle worth maintaining or it's not. If you're going to wait and see, and use it as a gun to the head of the minority, then you've basically already, you know, in my view, determined that you're willing to use the filibuster if--you know, regardless. They're just waiting for the right moment to use it.
I do think there are some that have a more principled--take a more principled approach. I think certainly Senator Sinema, Senator Manchin have pretty well put their foot down on it.
Jackie, I think what they will find is in a 50-50 Senate, especially a body that's as good at working across the aisle as we are--and granted, when we do, it's not that sexy. It's not as interesting to The Washington Post or anybody else when we do work across the aisle. But I do think the country would like to see it, and I'd like to see it more on, you know, plain view for the public.
So, I do think some of these things. Take the DREAM Act. We've got do to something about immigration in this country. And I know that it's a big challenge, and I know that every time there's something that a lot of people want there's a lot of people that hate it. And, they're willing to negotiate if you'll take what they want, but then the other people don't want any of that. And--but that's the art of the possible. That's politics. That's why the founders made it difficult. That's why we have two chambers and three co-equal branches is because big things are supposed to be difficult to do and it's supposed to take a lot of deliberation.
I think we're looking forward to the opportunity to do some of that on some of these bills and I think on something like infrastructure, which they're already talking about and they're talking about big numbers--"they" being the Democrats. Well, let's have hearings. We've started. We had one hearing in the EPW already on highway infrastructure. I think the opportunity to continue that is rich. When we were in the majority last session, we passed a highway bill, the largest highway bill in the history of the country, out unanimously, out of the committee. So, there's clearly an appetite to do those sorts of things, and we ought to get about it real quickly.
MS. ALEMANY: That was actually going to be my next question, on infrastructure. You know, the administration teased what their plan is looking like yesterday. That would include close to a trillion of spending on construction of roads, bridges, rails, ports. Is that something that you think that, you know, Democrats should skip the budget reconciliation process and actually try to work with Republicans on?
SEN. CRAMER: I can't think of a topic worthy of considered budget reconciliation that makes--where it makes more sense to go the bipartisan route because, as I said, we've already had a fair bit of success. I don't know that there's anything in this town that unites us more than perhaps opposition to China. So, yes, I think they ought to. I think Tom Carper, who's the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, a friend of mine, one of the most decent and reasonable, I think, members or chairmen I've ever worked with, although I say that about all my chairmen, but he's really good. And, again, a demonstrated willingness to already work across the aisle. I think you're going to find a lot of cooperation.
Now when you start talking about numbers like a trillion, it becomes obviously more difficult because there's only a quarter of a trillion dollars available in the Highway Trust Fund. So, we have to start talking about the revenue side of things when you start talking about trillions, and that's an area that gets difficult. But, once again, I think there's enough bipartisan support and enough just momentum for infrastructure, especially in a time--at a time when rebuilding the economy is so important, that I think you can, you know, find some willing partners, and I'd certainly be one of them, to look at the revenue side of things and how we might pay for a trillion dollars.
MS. ALEMANY: And the administration has also talked about wrapping in hundreds of billions of dollars to revitalize the nation's power sector. You have been a major proponent of nuclear energy, clean energy in manufacturing. I'm wondering if you think that this can be wrapped into the bill in a way that you could support it.
SEN. CRAMER: Well, in a way that I could support it, I don't think there's any question because the nice thing about a large infrastructure package is that a lot of it doesn't have to cost the federal taxpayer anything. You know, you're talking about in terms of clean power, whether it's transmission lines to get electricity more, you know, into the marketplace or transmission pipelines to get oil and gas to the marketplace. Or, you know, for that matter there's even some cases in transportation where you can get the private sector to make a lot, if not all, of the investment. Rail is another good example. There is a case, an economic case, for that type of private investment. The down side is, or the challenge for a lot of that is, that the regulations make it impossible. You know, pipelines are probably the best example.
Transmission lines, however, are a pretty good example. You talk about we want clean energy, we want more nuclear, we want more wind and renewables, but we--you know, we don't want transmission lines in our own backyard.
And I think a lot of it--if you combine some regulatory certainty and simplicity, not compromising integrity whatsoever, I think you can--you can get a lot done and get lots of hundreds of billions of dollars of private sector investment in infrastructure, not so much by subsidizing as by, you know, making the regulatory regime much, much easier.
Another area would be broadband, and I think that is an area where the federal government can put up some more money as well because I think it has such a strong economic advantage and it helps, you know, level the playing field for a lot of disadvantaged areas in a type of infrastructure that's really, really important to our global competitiveness as a country.
MS. ALEMANY: And, Senator Cramer, you were one of the rare Republicans who have actually supported the U.S. getting back into the Paris Climate Accord. How are you going to support those conversations?
SEN. CRAMER: Yeah. So, thanks for that. You know, I was rare even before I was rare. I mean, I was really rare when Donald Trump became President and I was, of course, a strong supporter of his. I come from a fossil fuel state, but you know, I actually advocated for staying in Paris. I do think the rules could be modified a bit. I think certainly the United States--the emission standards given to the United States versus places like China was inappropriate. But we also have to remember that those standards, those benchmarks, those goals were just that; they're goals. They're voluntary. They were aspirational. And I just think that America's leadership at that table is really important unless we want to just get run over by the rest of the world, and we don't do that very well.
So, what I would do is I would advocate for, like I said, reevaluating the standards, having serious conversations with our allies about our allies as well as our adversaries, and then turn the innovators loose. If we want to, for example, create a grid or build out a grid that carries more renewables, we also ought to help our fossil fuels be cleaner. And if we want to have more--if there's going to be more demand, for example, for liquid fuels around the world, and clearly there's going to be--there is--then we need to find a way to make sure more of it's produced in the United States, where the footprint, the environmental footprint, is much cleaner than if it's done, say, in Russia or Venezuela or Africa, even Saudi Arabia.
So, we have a lot to offer in terms of solutions. If we're at the table, those solutions can be not just invented and created in the United States of America; they can then be procured throughout the world. And our innovations, our technologies, our inventions become part of the solution in China, where they're building 25 to 30 coal-fired power plants every year. Well, if they're going to continue to do that, and be allowed to do that, we should be providing the technology that allows them to do that in a cleaner way. I just think we're missing an opportunity if we're not sitting not just at the table, Jackie, but at the head of the table.
MS. ALEMANY: And you mentioned President Trump. I do want to get back to your relationship with him after we talk about immigration really fast. What do you think of the way the Biden Administration is handling the current surge at the border?
SEN. CRAMER: Well, you can't talk about that without talking about President Trump. I think that their attitude coming into the White House was "Anything that Donald Trump did had to be bad; therefore, we should undo it." I imagine they're regretting some of that right now, and clearly the border is probably Exhibit Number 1.
I think the Biden Administration--what they did, in my view, is they took a victory and they just decided to flush it and accept whatever came of it, and what came of it was a comparison that is really stark. So, they've handled it very, very poorly.
I wish that they'd get back to things like the--you know, the agreement we had that President Trump negotiated with the Northern Triangle states. Clearly, their "Remain in Mexico" policy was working. The "catch and release" reversal was really crazy in my view. So, we had a manageable situation at the border after those things were negotiated by President Trump. We need to get back to them. Otherwise, you might as well just put up billboards that say "America is Open" and "Come at It" because the marketers are the coyotes, the human traffickers and the drug traffickers. They're marketing our vulnerability in a major way, and sort of pretending it's not a crisis is not a solution.
MS. ALEMANY: And, while the Trump Administration had, though, you know, largely sealed off our borders from really both sides and sort of didn't necessarily address the policy sides of this issue--also, I think I should--we should note that the surge also began under the final months of the Trump Administration, in April 2020. So, you know, this--there are obviously these arguments over a crisis, but I think if you were looking at the numbers the crisis did begin under President Trump. Is that something that--an assessment that you can agree with?
SEN. CRAMER: No, certainly not. I think Joe Biden owns this crisis for sure because, remember, even though the surge maybe was coming we had policies in place to stop that surge prior to them coming across the border. And, that's the point. That's the issue.
And, sure, they're going to test every now and then. There's going to be a test of our resolve. I think under President Trump the resolve was "You're not coming across the border until your court date, if in fact you're seeking asylum or claiming asylum, and then you'll be allowed to cross," and that incentive to--you know, to make that long walk will be removed.
And so, no, I think this--Joe Biden owns this. I think any attempt to try to absolve him of the responsibility is, frankly, irresponsible.
MS. ALEMANY: And you signed on to a letter, along with 40 other Republican Senators, declaring that the halt on the border wall funding that the Biden Administration did right off the bat, as soon as he took office, was unlawful. Have you received any response from President Biden [audio distortion]?
SEN. CRAMER: Yeah, I've not received a response from him. I don't that the group has. I've not--certainly not been made aware of any response. But almost crazier than the funding was is the fact that they stopped construction of the border wall while it was actually taking place and are still funding contracts that were already agreed to. So, we have wall builders getting paid to not build walls, and that really makes no sense to me.
MS. ALEMANY: I do want to push you a little bit on that because we've recently seen a number of videos that have come out of these sections of the wall that had been sawed through by smugglers. Our--you know, our reporters at The Washington Post have reported for years now, since the construction started, that the wall wouldn't necessarily be as effective as President Trump, you know, touted it as. There were DHS officials who privately had told my colleagues that whether or not there was a wall there was going to continue to be a surge of migrants depending on the events going on, on the other side of the border.
SEN. CRAMER: Sure. Obviously, there are certain things that drive people to the United States. Some of it's economic opportunity. Some of it's asylum. All of it has to be legal. And while there's going to be, obviously, some vulnerabilities, there always will be, there's nothing that's going to be 100 percent effective. But the combination of, you know, construction of border fence and walls, technology, more, you know, enforcement officers at the border, obviously, domain awareness from the skies and from the--and from the waters are all important. It takes all of the above, obviously, but removing any one of those, much less several of them, including the relationship with Mexico that some thought would be impossible, you know, at getting them to enforce more things on their side--I've been to the border and have seen dozens of Mexican military and police working on their side of the border and patrolling their side of the border. All of these things together make us safer, and the removal of any one of them--and as you remove one, of course, that just stretches out the resources to--you know, in a more dangerous way, in my view.
So, no, I don't think anybody proclaims that any one thing is going to solve the problem, but all of them together at least make us safer.
MS. ALEMANY: And from a policy perspective, what do you want the Biden Administration to do that they're not doing? We had mentioned the Workforce Modernization Act, which would create a pathway to citizenship for farm workers, non-citizen farm workers, and then the DREAM and Promise Act.
SEN. CRAMER: Yeah.
MS. ALEMANY: Are either of those bills--would you support those?
SEN. CRAMER: I think--no, I think both of those bills have some potential in the right form. Now remembering that--you know, taking one part of the immigration, I used to be a believer in let's take it in bites. You know, do the things that we can do together. That's when I was a naïve House member, you know, eight years ago, and then I find out, gee whiz, things don't work as easily as I had hoped they would. As we know, big, comprehensive becomes equally difficult, if not more so, but I do think we can--you know, we should get those bills over here, and will, and then we should start having hearings.
I, for example, think we ought to have a merit-based immigration system. So, if you have a "DREAMer" act or, frankly, a farm labor, you know, path to citizenship, I don't know if path to citizenship is the right--is the right answer, but maybe a path to some more formal status or more permanent status is appropriate.
I don't know if it should just be farmers. I think high-skilled workers. We have a high demand in this country for high-skilled workers. My strongest, you know, feelings about all this, my strongest conviction is on behalf of high-skilled workers. I think that we have an upside-down policy that punishes large countries with our per-country caps on high-skilled workers. North Dakota is a place that utilizes a lot in our medical field, in rural hospitals, uses a lot of H1Bs. Microsoft has a large campus. I just think it makes no sense to educate really smart people to send them home to work for competitors.
So, I have things that I care about deeply. That's why I--I always say, "I don't like non-starters." I think, you know, the art of the possible is what makes for successful legislating. The use of political capital means you store some up. You know, you collect some and store some up and then expend it, and then you explain it to people like yourself and back home so that people are on board with it.
So, I don't know that I could support either one of those bills in their current forms, but that's why there's a second body to take a look at them and start working in the areas that--first of all, finding common ground where we can and then finding compromise where we can.
MS. ALEMANY: And, Senator Cramer, we are running out of time here, but I want to ask you really quickly on former President Trump. You know, how much influence do you think he has over the future of the Republican Party?
SEN. CRAMER: I think he has a great deal of influence over the future of the Republican Party. He's earned that influence. He made the Republic Party a majority party not that many years ago. He sparked in our party sort of a hidden--a hidden--I don't want to say "agenda," but enthusiasm for an "America First" agenda.
I think as we think of the old Republican Party--and I've been around the party for a very long time--the globalist, more globalist Republican Party has to admit that we are a more populist Republican Party now. We don't abandon all of our principles. In fact, in many cases they're the same, but in some cases they're different. And I think Donald Trump continues to be the banner carrier for that more populist "America First" part of trade, national defense, you know, international policy and national economy, and you know, he's going to have an awful lot to say. And a lot of our Republican base, both previous and new Republican base, still look to him for their counsel and their advice, and he's going to have a lot to say about it going forward.
MS. ALEMANY: I have so many more questions for you, but unfortunately, we have to end our session today. But thank you so much for joining us, Senator Cramer.
SEN. CRAMER: It's my pleasure, Jackie. I like the format a lot and be happy to do it anytime we can--we can make it work.
MS. ALEMANY: Awesome. Thanks again.
SEN. CRAMER: You bet.
MS. ALEMANY: And, everyone, thank you for joining us.
Please join us again tomorrow at the Washington Post Live for the launch of our new series called “The Optimist,” featuring conversations with--that both inspire and inform us. Our first guest is Cynthia Germanotta, who is the President of Born this Way Foundation, which she co-founded along with her daughter, Lady Gaga. This series is hosted by my colleague, Frances Stead Sellers. You can head to the WashingtonPostLive.com to register.
We also have a panel tomorrow with Draymond Green, NBA player, so join us for that as well.
Thanks so much. We'll see you tomorrow.
[End recorded session.]