Havre Daily News: Tester talks technology, overseas conflict and House speaker in press call

by Patrick Johnston

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., discussed recent successes for Montana in a press call Thursday, in particular the recent designation of the state as a rural technology hub, which opens the door to millions in potential funds for research and development.

Tester said he has been advocating for the federal government to recognize the technological achievements of the state, particularly in rural areas and for them to get the federal support they need to continue innovating.

“This is an opportunity for both the public and private sector to compete for millions and millions of dollars to bolster our science and technology industries,” he said.

Tester said he helped form the Headwaters Tech Hub Consortium to apply for the designation and he pushed the Joe Biden administration to take a look at the work being done in the state, and, in the end, they beat out 200 other applicants to get designation.

He said Montana will help the U.S. compete against adversaries like China in making breakthroughs for national defense, particularly in the areas of laser and photonics technology.

“We’re about to see the Headwaters Tech Hub take off with $450,000 in strategy development funds to help the project get off the ground,” he said. “Not only is this big news for our growing small businesses and for Montana’s economy, but it means that we’re going to be on the cutting edge of innovation globally.”

He said the state will need to follow through and prove it is worthy of the designation to continue to see federal funds flow, but he’s confident that they can do that.

He said educational institutions like Montana State University and the University of Montana can both benefit from the designation and he hopes both of them cooperate in doing so.

Tester also talked about other recent victories, such as quashing efforts by the Biden administration to end hunter and gun safety classes from being offered by public schools.

He also said they successfully got the Biden administration to pull back on an east coast nominee for the Amtrak Board in favor of someone from rural America.

Tester has said that the board is dominated primarily by people from the east coast and they need more representation from rural areas.

However, Tester said, many challenges remain in Congress despite the fact that the House of Representatives now has a speaker after a month of turmoil.

Tester said he doesn’t know much about Speaker Mike Johnson, but he suspects that the Senate will continue to be in the leadership role in Congress.

He said he especially hopes Johnson will do the right thing and continue the U.S. support for its allies in Europe and the Middle East, Ukraine and Israel.

He said the attack by Hamas on Israel earlier this month was beyond horrific and the nation has the right to defend itself from such attacks.

Tester said he feels the same way about the war in Ukraine, and the U.S. must fight the influence of authoritarian leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Putin wants to restore the USSR, that’s not good for us,” he said. ” … The last thing I want is young people fighting a war in Poland, because Putin will not stop at Ukraine.”

He said it’s perfectly legitimate to debate how the U.S. should go about supporting its allies, but to dismiss the idea of aid to either one out of hand is “shortsighted and works against our interests.”

Tester said it seems like the Republicans who are vocally against sending aid to Ukraine mirror the isolationist attitude of the U.S. during the opening years of World War II.

He said the people of Europe remember that time and in talking to the people of Poland and refugees from Ukraine, they don’t want to see history repeat itself.

Tester said he is also continuing to push the White House to commit more resources to the U.S. southern border.

“We have to know who’s coming into our country and what they’re bringing, and that starts with securing the border with more manpower, and modern technology,” he said.

As well as the issue of aiding overseas allies and the border, Tester also talked about the work Congress will need to do to avoid a government shutdown and keep everything funded.

He said now that a House Speaker has been chosen, work on appropriation bills must begin. The debacle in the House has cost them nearly a month of time, he added.

He said he’s urging Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to keep everyone in D.C. over the weekends until this gets done, along with passing this year’s Farm Bill.

“There are a lot of people in this country who work seven days a week, I don’t think it’ll hurt to have Congress work seven days a week,” he said.

Tester also talked about the ongoing standoff with Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., who has continued his now-more-than-six-months-long hold on high-ranking military promotions, which Tester and others have said is harmful to national readiness and defense.

Tuberville had said he will not approve any new promotions until the U.S. Defense Department policy that reimburses service-member or dependent travel for reproductive health care – care that could, potentially, include an abortion – is reversed.

“I like Tuberville but this is a really stupid thing to be doing,” Tester said.

He said the Democrats may have found a way to sidestep Tuberville and start approving these promotions in groups and he doesn’t see a problem with that given the situation.

He said the people being promoted have been in the military for a long time, and he’s confident that if there was something in their histories that warranted refusal of their promotion it would have been addressed before this point.

Tester asked everyone to enjoy the first snow of the year but be safe on the roads.

“A lot of people forget how to drive over the summer, so take care,” he said.