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I'm Over The Moon Obama Brought Up Broadband, Sen. Heitkamp Says

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

All morning, we're hearing reaction to President Obama's State of the Union address. We're joined now by Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Welcome to the program.

SENATOR HEIDI HEITKAMP: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's begin with the question of spending. President Obama laid out a number of economic proposals last night, including spending on child care, on infrastructure, universal community college. You are a Democrat from a conservative, rural state who has argued to reduce spending. And given that, will you support those initiatives?

HEITKAMP: Well, I already am a huge proponent of making sure that our kids get a good start with early childhood learning. I am over the moon that he talked about broadband, about the need to bring broadband to all communities 'cause, as you know, rural communities are frequently left behind in infrastructure. And then no one who looks at our crumbling infrastructure and looks at what we're leaving behind for the next generation thinks we shouldn't spend. Now the trick, obviously, is how you find resources to not add to the deficit - not add to the debt - but actually pay-as-you-go because that's the challenge that we have. And I think there's going to be a broader discussion here as we move forward and as more members are willing to talk about governing and not just doing politics.

MONTAGNE: Well, what did you hear from the president that - not just that you liked, as you just mentioned - some initiatives - but that you, as a Democrat from a rural, conservative state, feel you can sell across the aisle to Republicans from other rural, conservative states?

HEITKAMP: Well, obviously, I think infrastructure. Most states, like North Dakota, are heavily dependent on federal funding to keep our interstate highways moving and to keep our transportation system going. And I think everybody from a rural state believes that we need to invest in infrastructure because we're part of the overall network. I was disappointed - I will tell you - that there isn't more discussion about the contributions that agriculture makes and rural America makes. You know, as we look, I think, frequently, if you're sitting there from Bowbells and you're listening, not much of that seems to apply to you. And I think given that we not only feed this country but feed the world, I think it would have been a nice shout-out to say thank you to American ag producers.

MONTAGNE: Well, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

HEITKAMP: Right?

MONTAGNE: Right, egg producers. Well, let me tell you - let me ask about something the president did not touch on and I know concerns you, coming from a state that has been having a big oil boom. That's the Keystone XL pipeline - runs near North Dakota. As a Democrat from that state, would you have wanted to hear about, and would you...

HEITKAMP: I think he's made his position on Keystone very clear. I think it's our responsibility now, as a Congress, to say this process hasn't worked and to basically move ahead with our plans to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. With that said, we don't know what the president's going to do. Secretary Kerry has set a pretty hard, firm date of February 2. I think we'll see what happens in terms of comments that come in to the State Department. State Department, I think, ought to be if they're not, embarrassed by a six-year delay on this. And we'll see if they're going to expedite this. And then we'll know what the president's actual position on the pipeline is. But the veto threat really comes as a result of expediting the process. And I don't think six years is expediting the process, but that's the way the president sees it.

MONTAGNE: Well, lots to talk about. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.

HEITKAMP: You bet.

MONTAGNE: North Dakota's Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.