MANDAN, N.D. - President Donald Trump struck a populist tone in his push for tax cuts and reform at an oil refinery here Wednesday, Sept. 6, while declining to put the state’s lone Democratic senator “on the spot” in the deeply red state.
Trump spoke at the Andeavor refinery in Mandan, where he was flanked by workers wearing blue fire-resistant clothing. A white plume primarily of water vapor emitted from a large stack in the background.
Trump pointed to job growth and low unemployment rates in North Dakota, which saw its economy boom in recent years with rapid oil development in the western part of the state. He said North Dakota is an “inspiring example of the amazing things that are possible when we unleash the genius of American innovators.”
"I want all of America to be inspired by what's happened in North Dakota and the North Dakota example," Trump said. "This state is a reminder of what can happen when we promote American jobs instead of obstructing American jobs."
The president also touted his efforts to lift restrictions on oil and natural gas development, and called permitting the long-contested Dakota Access Pipeline “the right thing to do” while suggesting the project’s opponents didn’t know why they were fighting against it. He nodded to the drought that has hampered North Dakota farmers and ranchers this year.
“We are with you 100 percent,” Trump said during his nearly 40-minute speech.
Trump invited the state's congressional delegation, along with Gov. Doug Burgum and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, on stage. He also asked oil mogul Harold Hamm and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, to make brief remarks to the crowd.
In a statement issued after the speech through his company, Continental Resources, Hamm said he “came today as an operator in the state of North Dakota who can confirm that the steps this administration have taken are pro-jobs and we strongly support his agenda of pro-growth tax reform.”
About 700 people were expected at the invite-only speech, although a tally of the actual number of attendees wasn’t available. A range of state officials and industry representatives attended, as did Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic advisor.
Trump called for the biggest middle class tax cut since Ronald Reagan was in office and pushed for simplifying the tax code. He said the business tax rate would “ideally” be slashed from 35 percent to 15 percent.
Trump said reducing taxes on businesses will help them “keep our jobs in America, create jobs in America, and compete for workers right here in America, meaning higher wages for workers and greater profits for companies.”
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform taxes, rebuild our economy, and restore America’s competitive edge,” he said.
In an interview after the speech, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said events like Wednesday’s are meant to build support for tax relief and reform, rather than “getting into all of the specifics.” Burgum, who traveled with the president to the speech, said he appreciated that Trump is taking a businessman’s perspective to tax reform.
“The principles he’s outlining are absolutely the right ones,” he said.
The visit also attracted some political intrigue, as Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp traveled with the rest of the congressional delegation on Air Force One. In a statement issued after the speech, Heitkamp said it’s “encouraging (Trump) committed to promoting American workers as key to any tax reform policy.”
“But, as North Dakota’s former tax commissioner, I know the devil is in the details of any reform plan as tax codes are complex, and we need to know what those details are,” she said, adding that she’s open to working with both parties on tax reform.
Trump called Heitkamp, who’s facing reelection next year, a "good woman” and avoided the same direct jabs he used against another Democratic senator during a speech in Missouri last week.
"I think we'll have your support. I hope we'll have your support," he said Wednesday.
Later, Trump said Reagan tax cuts were passed by a “vast majority of Democrats in the Senate, including a Democratic senator from the great state of North Dakota.”
“You listening, Heidi?” Trump said. “We're not going to put her on the spot.”
Bob Valeu, a former state Democratic-NPL Party chairman, tweeted that it was “hard to accept” Heitkamp’s decision to travel with Trump. But the president remains popular in North Dakota, where he’s less than a year removed from winning the state by 36 points.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee chided Heitkamp even before Air Force One landed at the Bismarck Airport. In a Wednesday morning statement, it said her welcoming Trump to North Dakota “won’t distract voters from the reality that she has consistently voted with Washington Democrats against President Trump’s agenda.”
Heitkamp, the lone Democrat elected to statewide office in North Dakota, has said she agrees with rolling back regulations like the Waters of the U.S. rule and was one of three Democratic senators to vote to confirm the president’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. She was reportedly a candidate for Trump’s Cabinet.
Heitkamp has criticized Trump on several occasions, however, and was a vocal opponent of Republican health care legislation this year. Asked by attendee of a Bismarck Lions Club meeting last month what grade she’d give the president, she said, "I once said 'incomplete,' but I would tell you today I don't think I'd be that generous."
Heitkamp has not yet said whether she’ll run for a second term next year.
State Sen. Tom Campbell, the only Republican to jump into the U.S. Senate race thus far, also attended Wednesday’s speech. He said having Heitkamp along for the trip was a “brilliant strategy” on Trump’s part.
“I really respect our President Donald Trump for inviting her because he’s doing whatever it takes to get this tax reform bill through,” Campbell said.