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Meeting leaves convoy leader ‘disappointed in who we have representing North Dakota’

Submitted Photo Sen. Kevin Cramer, left, listens as Sen. John Hoeven, right, speaks with convoy members in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Republican Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer met with the Freedom Convoy members at the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. According to Cramer’s office, the truckers reached out to the senator’s office to set up a meeting. Hoeven later joined as well.

Derek Depauw, a Bottineau area trucker who led the convoy that left Minot last week and arrived at the Capitol on the evening of March 6, expressed dissatisfaction with his interactions with Hoeven at the Tuesday meeting and said that Hoeven mainly focused on his re-election when Depauw mentioned to Hoeven the topic of addressing Covid mandates and how emergency declarations were implemented to enact mandates.

“Any changes that I had proposed to him, the only thing he could really say is, ‘well, in order to make that happen, we have to win in November. We have to win in November,'” Depauw said. “I’m not going to sit in D.C. ’til November, so do something now. You’re not gonna sit and wait for November to come. I am very, very disappointed in who we have representing North Dakota.”

Hoeven’s office responded to Depauw’s comments in a statement on behalf of Hoeven and Cramer and clarified that Hoeven was referring to the election overall, not his own re-election.

“Senator Hoeven made clear he opposes the mandates and indicated it is important Republicans win in November in order to stop the Biden administration’s policies, including the mandates. He was not referring to his own election. Republicans need to retake the majority since Democrats control the House, the Senate and the White House. Also as referenced in the statement he put out yesterday which summarized what he said at the meeting, he has consistently pushed back on Democrats and has opposed and will continue to oppose the COVID mandates,” Hoeven’s and Cramer’s offices stated.

On March 13, 2020, Gov. Doug Burgum declared a state of emergency at the start of the pandemic. Former President Donald Trump had declared a national emergency the same day and urged states to follow suit. Six days after the declaration, Burgum signed an executive order that directed bars and restaurants to close to on-sight patrons. That was later lifted, but Burgum signed other orders that limited restaurant capacity.

In November of 2020, a State Health officer order required face coverings to be worn in indoor businesses and indoor public settings as well as outdoor public settings where physical distancing wasn’t possible.

Even though any mask mandates and capacity restrictions have since been lifted in North Dakota, the convoy still feels there is work to be done in D.C.

In a previous interview with The Minot Daily News, Depauw said the group seeks to “eliminate all the mandates nationwide and prevent the government from having any overreach like that in future.” Depauw said on Wednesday that he’ll stay in D.C. until “things start happening.”

Depauw also indicated that he felt Hoeven was not willing to be aggressive enough with pushing forward policy to prevent COVID-related mandates.

“He said they need to kind of watch how they address things and so forth, so the Democrats don’t get upset about it. I immediately jumped on that. We don’t send people to D.C. to play along to get along,” Depauw said.

Hoeven’s office said in a statement that the senator has worked to stop mandates by “voting for a resolution to terminate the COVID-19 national emergency declaration, which was approved in the Senate on March 3; voting to repeal the vaccine mandate on private employers; voting to repeal the vaccine mandate for health care workers; working to prevent the federal employee and contractor mandates, including repeatedly voting to defund the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates;

“Cosponsoring legislation to repeal the vaccine and mask mandates for Head Start teachers and volunteers; pressing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary to stop vaccine mandates for USDA employees; cosponsoring legislation to end the mask mandate for planes, trains and buses; cosponsoring the COVID-19 Vaccine Dishonorable Discharge Prevention Act, which was signed into law as part of the NDAA, to prohibit the Department of Defense from giving service-members a dishonorable discharge if they decline to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Hoeven said the following in reference to the meeting with convoy members earlier this week:

“Americans have the right to exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and assembly. The mandates that have been put in place by the Biden administration are government overreach. That’s why we’ve been working to end the COVID mandates, and will continue to do all we can to push back on the administration. We appreciate Jim (Swartout) and other North Dakotans who took the time to travel here and meet with us.”

Swartout is another trucker who attended the meeting. The Minot Daily News reached out to him on Wednesday, but did not hear back. Depauw said he didn’t speak with Cramer as much as he did Hoeven, but that he felt Cramer was “okay,” but that the meeting felt rehearsed.

Senator Cramer’s office issued his statement that said:

“It was great to meet with North Dakotans participating in The People’s Convoy and hear about their fight for freedom. They’re absolutely right: the Biden Administration’s overbearing mandates are wrong and they should listen to the people they serve.”

His office added that in February, Cramer helped introduce the Terminating Reckless and Unnecessary Checks Known to Erode Regular Shipping (TRUCKERS) Act. The TRUCKERS Act would exempt non-U.S. citizen commercial truck drivers traveling from Canada or Mexico who are seeking to temporarily enter the United States for business through a land port of entry from proof of vaccination requirements.

“Vaccine mandates for truckers to enter the U.S. from Mexico and Canada are an extreme abuse of power with far-reaching consequences. We’re suffering through a supply chain crisis, and we need every trucker moving every product to every consumer and every place possible. Our bill provides much-needed relief from burdensome vaccine mandates to allow commerce to flow freely throughout North America,” Cramer said.

Depauw said that there were five convoy members meeting, including himself and Swartout.

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