Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., defied the odds in November when she won the closest senate race in the country, and now that she's arrived in Washington, she's defiant as ever. But now, instead of defying the pollsters, she's defying the Democratic caucus by taking divergent opinions on issues central to President Obama's second term agenda, ranging from gun control to the environment.
Heitkamp, who says growing the economy is her top priority, is concerned that the president is changing his focus to issues like climate change and gun control.
"I think, you know the one thing that has gotten lost by everyone is one of the best ways that we can perform here is by getting people back to work, making sure that this economic recovery, slow as it is, gets amped up and moves forward," Heitkamp tells Politics Confidential. "It's one of the reasons why I've been such a big proponent of the Keystone Pipeline. There's a shovel ready, private sector jobs program, good paying jobs."
On the topic of gun control, Heitkamp does not hesitate when asked if she'll support an assault weapons ban; her answer is a definitive no.
"There's literally hundreds of thousands of guns already out there," says Heitkamp. "This isn't a solution to the problem, that's my first thing. And I think if you read the case, the Second Amendment case, you got some serious Second Amendment challenges in all of this, and my personal perspective is that you are ignoring what could actually work to prevent this from happening because you are following an agenda that you already had before this ever happened, instead of taking a look at this circumstance, these situations and how do we prevent this violence."
Heitkamp says mental health needs to be part of the conversation in finding solutions to gun violence.
“It's good early prevention, it's good early detection of people who could possibly be doing these things, and then getting intervention,” says Heitkamp. “Take a look at what happened in Aurora, Colorado, when they called the mother, what did the mother say? ‘Oh my son could never do this’, no she said ‘You have the right person, I'm sorry'. Now there's a message.”
Heitkamp, who has already faced criticism from environmental groups, may also soon be targeted by an outside group built from the remains of the president's campaign and led by the president's 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina. The new group plans to put pressure on Republicans and Democrats who don't go along with the president's agenda.
"I would tell you as you talk about Jim Messina, the president lost North Dakota by almost 22 percentage points and I was still elected the United States senator and I was elected because I promised people I was going to be their voice not the voice for a political party, not the voice for a president who happens to be in the same political party that I am but I am the voice for the people of North Dakota," Heitkamp says. "I'll make my decisions based on what I believe is in the best interest of the people of North Dakota, the people of this country. And if in six years people don't agree that I made the right choices, I'll find something else to do."
To hear more about Heitkamp's fearless brand of politics, and to find out what she thinks about proving the otherwise infallible Nate Silver wrong on election night, check out this week's Politics Confidential.