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ND, Minn. delegations discuss wiretapping claims, travel ban and more

Heidi Heitkamp1 / 6
FILE PHOTO: Minn. Sen. Al Franken (D). (Michael Vosburg/The Forum)2 / 6
Approved CFF3 / 6
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Kevin Cramer5 / 6
Collin Peterson6 / 6

It's been less than two months since Donald Trump was sworn in, but the new president quickly has made his mark when it comes to divisive issues.

From a revised travel ban and work to replace the Affordable Care Act to allegations of wiretapping and Russian interference, the talking points have fueled conversations across the country.

The delegations that represent North Dakota and western Minnesota were asked for their thoughts on some hot-button issues:

1. Where do you stand on Trump's revised travel ban barring visitors from six Muslim-majority countries?

The revised travel ban replaces one of Trump's first executive orders, which barred immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. Sometimes called "Muslim Ban 2.0," the revised order signed earlier this week exempts permanent residents and current visa orders.

Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Kevin Cramer, Republicans from North Dakota, support the revised ban, with Hoeven saying it is reasonable to have a "temporary pause to lawfully review our refugee program and ensure that we have a strong screening process in place to make America safer."

"This issue is particularly important for North Dakota as our state has one of the highest resettlement rates for refugees per capita in the nation," Cramer said. "We cannot allow these terrorist groups to take advantage of our compassion and generosity."

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota's 7th congressional district, all Democrats, criticized the ban, stating the U.S. already extensively vets refugees and the plan was poorly executed.

"We need tough, smart national security strategies to keep Americans safe, but President Trump's new ban still puts that safety at risk," Heitkamp said, adding the U.S. should focus on homegrown terrorism. "The ban hurts us in the war against ISIS, isolates Muslims living in the U.S. who help root out potential terrorists, and reinforces the lie terrorists tell their recruits that America is waging a war on Islam."

2. What is your stance on the plan introduced this week to replace the Affordable Care Act?

Minnesota Democrats have opposed a complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which was implemented under President Barack Obama, with Franken saying the Republican plan was unacceptable and would hurt Minnesotans. He claimed it could force rural hospitals and nursing facilities to close.

"Doctors, hospitals and insurers oppose the bill because it will almost certainly rip coverage away from millions of people, increase health care costs, undermine essential public health protections and end Medicaid as we know it," he said.

Peterson and Heitkamp appear open to reviewing the plan but have concerns over how much it would cost and if it would make health care less affordable.

"I am skeptical of any bill that would have such wide-ranging consequences for Minnesota families that is drafted behind closed doors without input from the people it would impact," Peterson said.

Klobuchar called for bipartisan efforts to bring health care costs down.

Cramer and Hoeven support replacing the ACA, saying it has limited health care choices and has raised costs for families. Cramer said the new plan, titled the American Health Care Act, protects the most vulnerable and empowers U.S. citizens.

"The House plan is still a work in progress, but it has the right elements to provide Americans with access to health care options," Hoeven said.

3. Should Congress act on the president's call for an investigation into his allegations of wiretapping at Trump Tower?

Cramer, Hoeven, Peterson and Heitkamp all said the claims of wiretapping should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.

Peterson called on Trump to disclose evidence that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, while Klobuchar and Franken said there appears to be no evidence to support Trump's claims.

"The President made this charge with a tweet ... and since then, neither he, nor any administration officials have provided evidence that President Obama wiretapped President Trump," Franken said.

4. How should Congress investigate evidence and claims of Russian interference in the 2016 election?

Klobuchar, Heitkamp, Franken and Peterson called for an independent commission to investigate the matter, with Klobuchar saying it was about "defending democracies, and we must be a united front in fighting Russian aggression and interference." Franken called for a special counsel to oversee FBI and Justice Department investigations.

"Any attempt made by a foreign government to influence the outcome of a U.S. election threatens to undermine the democratic process, and that is unacceptable," Heitkamp said.

Cramer and Hoeven noted their chambers are investigating the matter. Hoeven called Russia an adversary, stating "we have to stand up for what's best for America."

"Through bipartisan committees, Congress already has the tools in place to investigate any Russian interference in the election," Cramer said. "There's no doubt in my mind they will do everything in their power to seek the truth on this matter.

5. Should we renegotiate portions of NAFTA and why?

NAFTA, or the North American Free Trade Agreement, is an accord between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. The agreement is expected to be discussed in the following months, though Trump has threatened to withdraw U.S. involvement if it doesn't meet his standards.

The agreement is 20 years old, so Heitkamp, Cramer, Klobuchar, Peterson, Franken and Hoeven all appear open to renegotiating the agreement, or at least parts of it.

They said they want a better deal for the agricultural sector and for manufacturers to make the U.S. more competitive.

Heitkamp and Peterson pointed to issues they have with the Canadian market, with Peterson saying dairy products are "effectively shut out of the Canadian market, while Canadian dairy producers are free to sell their products in the U.S."

"As the administration talks about throwing out or rewriting trade deals that currently guarantee our farmers access to Mexico, Canada and other key trading partners, we can't forget how vital export markets are for North Dakota's workers," Heitkamp said. "Trade policies that grow American manufacturing jobs have my full support, but they can't come at the expense of agricultural jobs."

Cramer said there are areas of NAFTA that need to be modernized, pointing specifically to the growth of the internet and e-commerce.

"These areas barely existed when NAFTA went into effect in 1994," he said. "Further, with respect to our relationship with Canada, we should look to harmonize our travel standards for a more efficient flow of goods, services and people."

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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