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GOP presidential hopeful Doug Burgum says he'd leave abortion laws up to the states

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum speaks to reporters in the spin room after a Republican presidential primary debate on Aug. 23.
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North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum speaks to reporters in the spin room after a Republican presidential primary debate on Aug. 23.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is a wealthy businessman and investor who first entered politics when he won the governor's mansion back in 2016. Now, after winning reelection in 2020, he wants to be president of the United States.

"I'll never be a senator. I'll never be a congressman. I'm not even that interested in politics," Burgum told NPR. "But I am interested in service and I'm interested in solutions and I'm interested in solving the hard problems that are facing our country."

In a wide-ranging interview with Susan Davis and Asma Khalid on The NPR Politics Podcast, Burgum shared his views on the economy, the role of the federal government in regulating abortion and transgender issues and the strict rules the Republican National Committee has placed on candidates who participate in debates.


Interview Highlights

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Asma Khalid: Governor, at this point, a number of economic metrics have been improving. Unemployment is lower, inflation is cooling. Some of the recession fears have decreased. How would you alter or improve the economy? What else do you feel needs to be done at this point?

Gov. Doug Burgum: Well, I'm very skeptical of the reports that you mentioned for a couple of reasons, because we still have, you know, these record high interest rates and when we're out talking to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, they're not reciting the stuff that the mainstream media is. They're like going, 'I can't afford to buy a house. I can't afford to put food on my table and gas in my tank.' You know, the average American is spending $700 more a month than they were two years ago. It's $8,400 a year just for their basic needs.

And so if you tell them that inflation is slowing down, that means prices are still rising. Does it mean that they're going down? It means they're still rising, just not as fast. And they've all got a pay cut the last two and a half years, and telling them that they're going to get a little less pay cut — is it making them happy? So the economic issues are number one on people's minds.

Asma Khalid: Governor, I want to shift gears and ask you about your party's frontrunner in the Republican nomination for president, and that is former President Donald Trump. You raised your hand in the first debate when asked if you would support him if he were the nominee and convicted of any crimes. So what do you say to people like your fellow governor, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, who are out there sayingDonald Trump can't win a general election and he's going to cost Republican candidates up and down the ballot. Do you share those concerns? Do you not share those concerns? And could you explain why?

Well, first of all, let me address the question at the debate. Everybody on that stage — because of these clubhouse rules of the party where the, you know, the clubhouse, a few people at the RNC are deciding, you know, who gets to be on the debate stage and who doesn't. I'm a strong supporter of Iowa and New Hampshire and the early states, South Carolina, Nevada. They're the ones that the voters who are actually paying attention to, meaning candidates should be the ones that are thinning, thinning the field, not be, you know, not a national cable channel and some clubhouse rules about national polling. So but to get on the debate, because the RNC is controlling it, get on the debate stage, everybody on stage, all eight people, signed a pledge that said, I will support the Republican nominee and I won't run as an independent. So we all know that, the math, so we started running our race from the beginning, running a race that would allow us to win in November of 2024. That's what we're doing. And if I thought somebody else had a better chance of it, I wouldn't be running. I think we've got the best chance of pulling the country together.

Susan Davis: House Republicans are now pursuing an impeachment inquiry of President Biden. From where you sit, do you think Biden has committed impeachable offenses?

I'll leave that to the impeachment crew and the rules of Congress to do that. But I certainly think an inquiry is on the surface is valid and necessary because it's just we should all be concerned that if you have a family or an individual that's in public service and that suddenly they and their family members balance sheets start going up and you've got the possibility of reported millions and millions of dollars of payments going to multiple family members. On the surface, it looks like influence peddling. Now everybody is innocent till they're proven guilty. But this is why we have an issue in our country where people don't trust government, they don't trust politicians. It's just abhorrent to me that people would think that that's OK or that we shouldn't check into it. Absolutely we should. Because if we don't get bottom up, we don't get to the bottom of it. Are we going to restore trust?

Susan Davis: Do you think that there needs to be tougher laws about influence peddling?

I think there certainly can be an open debate about that. And we have leaders in Congress, you know, that are doing basically insider trading. Them or their spouses. I mean, so why wouldn't we hold Congress and the White House to the same level of criteria that we have for the last 20 years to leaders in the private sector?

As governor, you have signed a number of bills into law concerning transgender youth in your state. I'm curious for your take on this, because we had former Gov. Chris Christie on the podcast and he said he opposed legislation and laws along these lines because he said they weren't conservative in that he did not support anything that would put the state involved between parents and their children. So let me ask you about it from that perspective of these transgender bills. What's conservative about them if it is dictating how parents can or cannot treat their children?

Well, first of all, I would just say this falls to be under the 10th Amendment, and this is something that belongs with the states and needs to be taken care of at the state level, where legislators or schools or sports organizations can get involved in, you know, listening and understanding the actual situation with parents and families, etc.

But what we did in North Dakota was, you know, as the principal said, hey, we're going to protect women's sports. And so we protected women's sports. But there's other things that we've done to say, hey, we're going to support adults that may want to have transformative, you know, call them sex change operations, but we don't support that for youth.

In the same vein, that we have laws that say, you know, you can't drink if you're under 21 and you can't smoke: There's other things you can't do that we restrict for young people. And this is one of the things that our legislature felt strongly about that ought to be restricted.

But these are clearly things that are not anything that the president of the United States should be spending time on when we just dialed through in this conversation all the challenges facing our nation. These are things that need to be debated and litigated at the local and state level.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: September 19, 2023 at 9:00 PM PDT
In an earlier version of the transcript, a question asked by Asma Khalid was incorrectly attributed to Susan Davis.
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Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.