Tester speaks on defense bill, Orlando shooting and VA service

The Western News

by Bethany Rolfson

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, Senator Jon Tester talked to the press about the Orlando shooting, the National Defense Authorization Act, and endorsement possibilities. Tester voted to approve the annual NDAA bill, which the Senate passed.

The senator began by addressing the Orlando shooting that took place Sunday morning. He condemned the incident, calling it a “horrific and senseless act of violence and terror.” He said that the United States needs to “put an end to violence and hatred” by passing “legislation that keeps guns out of the hands of terrorists,” securing our borders and “reforming our security clearance process.” He also criticized congress for continuing its partisan gridlock.

Tester said that he supported the 2016 NDAA bill because it provides funding for “Montana’s critical ICBM mission and gives the Airmen at Malmstrom the resources.” The bill also supports retired veterans as well as active troops.

“The last thing our troops should have to worry about is putting food on the table for their families at home,” he said.

Later in the day, Tester took the Senate floor to demand his bill, the Veterans’ First Act, which would allow the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs flexibility to work with non-VA community providers, as well as expands the mental health service and timely VA vaccinations for veterans. The Veterans’ First Act would also allow veterans to access care outside of the VA, if the next available appointment is over 30 days, or if the veteran lives more than 40 miles from a VA clinic.

When asked about how the NDAA would postpone the closing of Guantanamo Bay, and how his approval of this bill conflicts with his earlier statements that closing Guantanamo would “protect American values and our National security,” Tester said, “No bill is perfect.”

Another part of the NDAA bill that Tester disagreed with was how the bill would require women in the selective service to sign up for the draft. Tester said that, “nobody likes a draft,” but also went on to say that a draft is highly unlikely.

On Wednesday’s conference call, Tester opened the discussion to other topics, like the Orlando shooting and the presidential election. In a press statement released before the call, Tester said more needs to get done, rather than said, in the wake of violence.

“After attacks like Orlando we hear folks say never again, but we heard that after San Bernandino. We heard that after Sandy Hook. And we heard that after Aurora,” Tester said in a prepared statement.

When asked about Trump’s anti-Islamic comments regarding the shooting, Tester said in the conference call that it was “inappropriate and dangerous using the Orlando shooting as a reason for political gain,” and said that during 9/11, people came together while with the Orlando shooting, “we see intolerance.”

Regarding endorsements, Tester said that he will make an endorsement sometime this week, and that he needs to speak with both Bernie and Hillary first.