Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota apologized on Thursday for his tone during an argument over the Violence Against Women Act.
The Republican congressman told the Grand Forks Herald a report of his comments to a group of Native American victim assistance professionals in Bismarck this week was “not an accurate account” of what happened. However, Cramer admitted his “style” was inappropriate for the discussion.
“We had a very frank discussion about my belief in equal protection under the law and due process,” Cramer said. “I don’t want [the Violence Against Women Act] overturned. I wanted to improve it so it doesn’t get overturned. I engaged in a discussion, or maybe I should say debate, that was probably more like a debate we’d have in Congress than with a group of people dedicated to helping women and children.”
His remarks were reported by Melissa Merrick, the director of Spirit Lake Victim Assistance, at the website Last Real Indians. Merrick participated in the meeting and described Cramer’s comments as “roughly 20 minutes verbal attacks directed at me and meant for all Native people.”
Cramer allegedly said he didn’t feel safe on Native American reservations because of a provision in the Violence Against Women Act that allows tribal courts to prosecute non-Native American individuals for sexual and domestic violence crimes committed on tribal land.
The congressman also berated tribal leaders for being “dysfunctional” and said he wanted to “ring the Tribal council’s neck and slam them against the wall.” Although Cramer voted in favor of the law, he told the group that the provision was unconstitutional and that non-Native American perpetrators would not receive fair trails.
Merrick said Cramer’s comments offended many people at the meeting. She described his tone as condescending and added it was clear he “did not come to the meeting with the intention to listen.”
“As a native woman, I am part of a group that has been most victimized; more than any other demographic group,” Merrick concluded. “As a survivor, throughout my life I have been victimized by men. In his arrogance, Cramer probably doesn’t realize he just did the very same, and in front of an audience.”
With reporting by David Edwards