Montana's Democratic Senator on border walls, weed and 2018 goals

by Yellowstone Public Radio, Nate Hegyi

President Trump and members of Congress are trying to strike a deal over border security and the fate of undocumented immigrants under the DACA program. But on Wednesday a judge put a temporary hold on Trump’s plan to end DACA in March.

The president met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers before the ruling this week, including Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester. He spoke with Yellowstone Public Radio’s Nate Hegyi after the meeting about border walls, weed, and his top priorities for 2018.

NATE HEGYI: I wanted to start by asking you about Tuesday’s meeting with President Trump about border security and the fate of undocumented immigrants under the DACA program. What did you learn?

JON TESTER: I met with President Trump and I think this is the second or third time, and it was the best meeting I’ve had with him. He was very engaged, he stuck to the topic very, very well and he really, truly wants to get a deal and I think that’s important. And it kind of got boiled down in the end where there was going to be a Democrat from each House and a Republican from each House to sit down and develop a timeframe and guiding principals to move forward. I think that’s the best way to do it so I was happy with what came out of it. Of course, time is limited when it comes to issue from DACA and we need more information from Homeland Security as to what they’re going to do on both the southern and the northern border, what their long term plan is because I happen to be a ranking member on that appropriations committee and I’m not just going to give the administration a blank check on this they’ve got to have a plan so we don’t waste a bunch of money.

NH: Senator, would you fund a wall along the southern border?

JT: Well, that’s why we need a long-term plan, number one. And I don’t think the president is advocating for a wall from coast to coast. Instead he said, he said as much. I do think there are places where a wall could potentially work. I also think there are places where technology would be much better. And I think there are places where we need additional manpower particularly in our ports. But that aside, that’s why we need a long term plan from the Department of Homeland Security to see where they’re going to build a wall, why, where they’re going to use technology, why, and then there’s also issues of eminent domain that need to be addressed in the plan, so those are just a few of the 30,000 foot things that need to be addressed in a long term plan.

NH: I want to switch to marijuana. Earlier this month, the attorney general showed his intent to reverse Obama-era marijuana regulations. How do you feel about that and what does that mean for Montana?

JT: I don’t know how the Department of Justice is gonna move forward with this, I think state’s rights do need to be respected in this situation and there’s plenty of argument out there that says that alcohol is far worse than marijuana and I will tell you that’s hard to debate. But the truth is that I think the Montana voters were right when they passed the medical marijuana component. As far as over full legalization, I’m not too crazy about that. But we’ll see how Sessions, who is the attorney general, is going to deal with this issue. I think if he starts running over state’s rights he’s going to have some problems on this issue.

NH: Senator Tester also spoke about some of his top priorities in 2018. They include protecting social security, Medicare and Medicaid, banning mining near Yellowstone National Park, and passing a bipartisan regulatory reform bill. Tester says that bill will protect Montana’s local banks and credit unions during topsy-turvy economic times.

JT: Why is this important? Well I tell you, in a rural state like Montana, Wall Street banks are not going to serve us and we’ve seen the number of community banks decline from 72 two years ago to about 49 today. When you lose a bank in a community, you lose access to capital and then you see that community just dry up and blow away. This should help the community banks stay in business and stay in communities, that’s the overall goal and the same thing with credit unions.

NH: Jon Tester is Montana’s Democratic Senator. Yellowstone Public Radio has invited Republican Senator Steve Daines to share his legislative priorities for the new year and we hope to have that conversation next week.