Helena Independent Record: Tester expects fast impeachment trial, supports Keystone pipeline

by Phil Drake

Sen. Jon Tester told Helena-area residents Thursday that he expected the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump to move fast, that he still supported the recently scrapped Keystone XL Pipeline and hinted he may get another committee chairmanship, but would not provide further details.

The Montana Democrat spoke from Washington, D.C., for about 45 minutes during a morning meeting of Hometown Helena, an informal gathering of residents that was held online. He talked about life in post-insurrection Washington, D.C., covered several other topics and fielded questions from about 70 people attending the virtual meeting hosted by former Mayor Jim Smith.

Tester, who just became chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said Washington, D.C., in the days since the Jan. 6 civil unrest in which people stormed the Capitol building to protest the presidential election of Democrat Joe Biden, reminded him of his 2007 visit to Baghdad in a time of military intervention.

“I saw what happened Jan. 6. If not for the grace of God there would have been a bunch of Congress people dead,” he said, adding he considers the nation’s Capitol, much like the state Capitol in Helena, to be sacred ground.

“To be overrun by a bunch of a domestic terrorists goes against everything, everything I believe in,” Tester said.

He said one police officer said not all of the protesters were armed. But Tester disagreed. “Damn near every one of them was armed and I will tell you it was a very scary time.”

Tester said it is a strength of the United States that people can go out and protest lawmakers’ actions.

“But the line was crossed when the Capitol was breached by these folks, and (these) folks need to be held accountable,” he said.

He complimented members of the National Guard, who were called to the Capitol to help with security for the Jan. 20 inauguration, saying “they did an amazing job, totally professional, make you proud.”

He said he expected the February trial of Trump to last three to five days, because, as he noted, “all the jurors were there” and said he was not looking forward to it.

“Then we’re going to start and move on with legislation,” he said, but added lawmakers have been asked not to submit legislation at this time, saying the office that writes the legislation was “totally trashed” during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

He said they are rebuilding the office and trying to retrieve stolen material.

Tester spoke of Denis R. McDonough being nominated to be secretary of Veterans Affairs, saying he had bipartisan support, an “incredibly stellar” FBI report and would be good for the veterans of Montana. Tester was targeted by Trump in 2018 for opposing his nomination of Ronny Jackson to head the VA. His comments prompted Trump, who won the state by 20% in 2016, to visit Montana four times during the 2018 election cycle to campaign for Republican candidates.

He said there was a chairmanship of another committee that he could possibly get, but did not offer more details other than to say “It will help very much in getting the military’s attention.”

Tester was asked about the Keystone XL Pipeline being revoked by newly elected President Joe Biden on Jan. 20, his first day in office, in an effort to combat global warming, saying it was not consistent with his administration’s “economic and climate imperatives.”

The 1,700-mile pipeline was to carry about 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Tester, now in his third Senate term, said his view has not changed in the past 10 years in which he supported the pipeline construction as long as it was built safely and respected private property rights.

“I still don’t know why this is the tip of the spear,” he said. “There are hundreds if not thousands of pipelines that run across that border and why this is the one people are fired up about, I don’t know.”

He said climate change is real.

“In the end I don’t think this makes or breaks us on climate change,” he said, adding there are talks about ways to get the pipeline built.

“I don’t agree with this decision,” Tester said.

Smith noted Tester was not afraid to criticize the Biden administration, much like he did the Trump presidency.

“Look, I don’t agree with my wife all the time,” Tester said. “I am not going to agree with this administration all the time. The bottom line is when they are wrong I am going to tell them and when they are right I will pat them on the back. That’s just the way it is going to be.”

Tester was asked about infrastructure development and said there is an opportunity for an infrastructure bill, but added that promise has been made by Washington before.

“I don’t think we are kidding anybody that we won’t maintain in our leadership in this world in the 21st century if we don’t invest in infrastructure and education, we are going to be out in the cold,” he said. “It’s just the way it is.”

Tester said it would have to be a program where the federal government would have to pick up the cost.

He was asked why lawmakers cowered like sheep in Washington.

Tester said if getting reelected is your top priority, it cripples your ability to make decisions. He said it was an incredible opportunity to represent Montana, but being a senator was not the best job he ever had.

“The best job I ever had was being a farmer, 12 miles west of Big Sandy,” Tester said. “But the bottom line is there are some people who live and die by this place.”

“I can’t put my finger on why it’s hard to hold people accountable when they screw up.”

Other members of Montana’s congressional delegation include Republicans Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale.