Havre Daily News: Tester talks impeachment trials, veteran mental health care and infrastructure

by Derek Hann

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester discussed a number of issues facing the state and the country Thursday during a press conference, including the impeachment trials and the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act.

Tester said that with the conclusion of the Senate impeachment trials against President Donald Trump, following his impeachment by the House for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, he stands by his vote to impeach the president.

“Consequently, I voted to convict the president and I stand by that decision because I think it was the right thing to do to protect our Constitution, not to mention what might happen in the future because of the precedence this impeachment trial set,” Tester said.

He said that he had spent multiple days in the Senate chamber and recorded his observations of the case, where both the House managers and the president’s defense team presented their cases. He added that he pushed for additional witnesses, who had firsthand knowledge of the case, to be brought forward, but no additional witnesses were brought forward.

“Unfortunately, even though there were 13 witnesses who testified in the House inquiry, zero witnesses testified in the Senate,” he said. “First time ever, first time there was ever an impeachment trial with no new information or no new folks who could testify.”

Tester added that the House managers presented a compelling case. He said that the president’s defense team brought the Senate some things that, “quite frankly were just about as far away from the constitutionality of this situation as anything that I have ever heard.”

Aside from the impeachment trials Tester also discussed progress in the Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act.

For the past several months the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has been working on a bill to increase mental health care for veterans, he said. He added that last month the Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act was passed out of committee and he and the chair of the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, is working diligently to get the bill passed on the Senate floor and get it to the president’s desk to be signed.

Tester added that the bill was named after Commander John Scott Hannon, who served as a U.S. Navy Seal for 23 years before he moved to Montana. Tester said that while in Montana he had a hard time getting into civilian life and was upfront about his struggles. Hannon worked with a lot of the services available through the VA but, less than a year ago, he took his own life, Tester said.

“He’s a man who had given everything to this country and ultimately his life,” he said.

Twenty veterans die by suicide every day, Tester said, adding that number is unacceptable and something needs to be done about this issue. He added that the bill being put forth is utilizing outside-of-the-box ideas of how to treat veterans, utilizing therapies such as yoga and horse therapy. The bill also takes special focus on rural and frontier areas across the country and works to get more health care professionals in those area.

Another focus of the bill is to work on recognizing veteran’s mental health issues as well as mental health issues in the private sector, he said.

Tester added that because of the impeachment trial a number of other bills in the Senate have not had a chance to reach the Senate floor at this time. He said that as a congressional delegate it is critical that the Senate is able to effectively do the job they were elected to do.

In the coming months a number of issues need to be worked on, including concerns regarding infrastructure, Tester said. The federal government is running low on funding and the president’s budget, which was released last week, adds about a trillion dollars to the national debt.

“That is not sustainable in my opinion and we are going to have to deal with that,” he said.

He added that hearings discussing the national budget will be starting in the appropriations subcommittees next week and are planned to go through September. Tester said that hopefully they are able to get the budget done in a timely manner so agencies and communities know what will be funded and what is not.

Other issues that need to be discussed are the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact, the issue of feral pigs coming into Montana from Canada, expansion of broadband to support 5G and the trade agreements.

“It’s a good thing we got the United States – Mexico – Canada Agreement) signed, it’s a good thing that we got an agreement with Japan, it’s a good thing we are getting close to an agreement with China, but the bottom line is how those are implemented is really where the rubber meets the road,” Tester said.

He added that there is also a movement in the Capitol to sell off federally owned lands. Public federal lands bring in about $7.2 billion into Montana’s economy and brings about 72,000 jobs depending on the outdoor economy. He added that 40 years ago the federal government did something similar and years later the lands were bought back using taxpayer dollars or private funds costing the country a large amount of money.

Having a mineral lease could possibly cost the taxpayers moving forward and is a short-term solution which could cause long-term problems, he said.

“It is such a big part of the way we live in Montana and it is such a big part of our economy that, quite frankly, that’s very short sighted,” Tester said.