NBC Montana: Tester discusses stimulus proposal talks, first visit to Oval Office

by Maritsa Georgiou

MISSOULA, Mont. – Sen. Jon Tester says it will be several more weeks before a vote on President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, but he praised the veterans portion of the proposal after a meeting in the Oval Office Wednesday morning.

Tester, the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, was invited to meet with Biden and other Democratic committee chairs who are most involved in drafting the $1.9 trillion relief plan proposed by Biden.

Tester says they went around the room, and when it came to him, the first topic was getting more vaccines rolled out.

“I brought up Montana specifically and said that we are — we’re not getting the job done in Montana,” Tester said. “I put forth some statistics to him about how, you know, at the current rate it will take two years to get all the veterans vaccinated in Montana.”

Tester says his portion of the conversation started with vaccines but covered a number of other veterans issues.

“(Biden) talked about his son, Beau, who served in the service and the experiences that he had after he returned home,” Tester said. “So we had the ability not only to talk about vaccines and about how we can more effectively make the VA get those vaccines into veterans’ arms, but we also talked about things like mental health and how critical that was and housing and how critical that was to our veterans and job training.”

Before Wednesday, Tester had never been in the Oval Office.

“I’m going to be honest with you, it was pretty emotional for me. And I told the president that. You know, I mean, the fact is Joe Biden is where he is due in part to the work (former Montana U.S. Senator) Mike Mansfield did. And I told him that Mike Mansfield would be very proud looking down today on Joe Biden,” Tester said. “It was a very special experience, and I will tell you that I’m not easily in awe of different things, but this was pretty cool.”

Tester says it will still be six to eight weeks out on the relief package, and he expects it to change some.

“We’re going to be working to make sure that works for Montana in the end. But I will tell you this veterans portion of this package is pretty darn good.”

As far as movement from the Democrats to meet Republicans in compromise, Tester said he thinks Biden understands negotiations are part of the deal because of his background in the Senate.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said Wednesday if Biden works with Republicans, he thinks it’s possible to get bipartisan support, but without any changes he predicts no GOP members will support the $1.9 trillion plan.