Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) on Thursday disputed an account of a heated exchange he reportedly had with victim assistance professionals from American Indian reservations in North Dakota, but the congressman said he regretted the tone of the discussion.
In a post on the website Last Real Indians, Melissa Merrick, director of Spirit Lake Victim Assistance, described her encounter with Cramer at a meeting on Tuesday in Bismarck, N.D. to discuss the recently passed Violence Against Women's Act (VAWA). Spirit Lake Victim Assistance provides support to victims of domestic violence. VAWA included provisions to allow non-Indians who commit crimes in Indian country to be tried in tribal courts. Cramer opposed the provisions on constitutional grounds, but ultimately voted in favor of VAWA.
Merrick wrote that Cramer railed against the provisions at the meeting, asserting that they would inevitably be overturned by the Supreme Court. According to Merrick, the Republican lawmaker also disparaged tribal governments. She quoted him as saying, "Tribal governments are dysfunctional. Tribal courts are dysfunctional, and how could a non-native man get a fair trial on the reservations?" At one point, Merrick recalled Cramer saying that he wants to “ring the [state] Tribal council’s neck and slam them against the wall" for covering up sex abuse of children on Indian Reservations.
Cramer told the Grand Forks Herald that his "debate" with Merrick may have escalated and apologized that things turned tense and offered an apology to her.
"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," Cramer said. "I want to apologize to her for that.”
But the congressman quibbled with Merrick's claim that he unleashed "roughly 20 minutes (of) verbal attacks directed at me and meant for all Native people." He said that he never called tribal governments dysfunctional. "She used the word dysfunctional many times. I don’t believe that I did," he said.
"I don't believe she's being vicious," Cramer added. "She's recalling what she believes she heard."
Cramer's office was not immediately available for comment.