Havre Daily News: Tester talks border, fentanyl, and political theater

by Patrick Johnston

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., held a press call Thursday with rural journalists where he expressed frustration at the state of the U.S. southern border and the lack of action by Congress to address it.

Tester said it is going to be a busy year for Congress, with a budget that should have been passed last year, and a Farm Bill in the same boat, but the current frustration remains the southern border, a crisis he said is being perpetuated by partisanship, particularly from Republicans.

He said a bipartisan group of legislators has already worked out a common-sense deal, but partisan Republicans and some seemingly disinterested Democrats are holding up the process, the former category for reasons of political gamesmanship.

“Mitch McConnell would kill the bill because he cares more about using the border as a political football in the next election,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”

Tester said securing the border and addressing the fentanyl crisis are top priorities for Montana and he has introduced a bill to impose economic sanctions on countries that manufacture the drug and its components, and declare the crisis a national emergency.

However, he said, there are still too many people who want these issues as a wedge and his bill was taken off the National Defense Authorization Act at the last minute.

He said the whole situation is incredibly angering since so many of the people being the loudest about fentanyl and the border are the same ones holding up the process of fixing those problems.

Tester said the same partisanship has blocked another bill of his that would prevent foreign adversaries from buying farmland in the U.S., which he called an issue of national security.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated right now,” he said. “… The folks back here who want to play politics with every damn issue that comes down the pipe and be obstructionist in the process have no room in electoral politics and they ought to just get out.”

During the call Tester was asked about the Fort Belknap Water Compact, which he said was taken off the National Defense Authorization Act by House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La.

The compact, in addition to settling water rights with the Fort Belknap Indian Community, funds infrastructure for clean drinking water and irrigation, contains $275 million in mitigation funds for Milk River Project, which has been in need of rehabilitation for many years and is vital to local agriculture producers.

The settlement has been more than a decade in the making with collaboration between local, tribal, state and federal governments as well as non-government stakeholders and is the last water settlement in Montana to be finalized.

Tester was also asked about the prospect of states attempting to criminalize interstate travel by people seeking abortions.

He said these kinds of personal health care decisions should be primarily between women and their doctors, not politicians who can’t even maintain a border.

He was also asked about the economy and why it is still perceived as more negative than it is.

Tester said there are still a lot of problems people are worried about, like interest rates and housing costs, so there is still more work to be done.

However, he said, the economy overall is solid, with the U.S. bringing back the kind of jobs that haven’t been around since the 90s.