As the, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana called the stalemate in negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders “nothing short of ridiculous.”
“We passed a bill … a couple of weeks ago to keep the government open and the House refused to take it up,” Tester said on “Face the Nation” Sunday, referring to a funding measure passed by the Senate two weeks ago which went nowhere after President Trump said he would not support it. “I think the fact that we’re at a government shutdown is nothing short of ridiculous.”
Tester, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Democratic and Republican lawmakers need to sit down and “pound out” an agreement to reopen the government, which has been partially closed since Dec. 22. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees will work without pay or be furloughed until the shutdown ends.
Tester said one of the main sources of the impasse in Congress, which reconvenes Monday, is the president’s unwavering $5 billion demand for funds to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The problem is that the president has $1.3 [billion] from last year for border security — actually $21 billion for border security, $1.3 [billion] for the wall — that he has spent very little of,” Tester said. “And he says yet he needs more.”
He added that although the president wants to appear like he’s not backtracking on one of his principal campaign pledges, the border security Mr. Trump is now calling for differs from what he touted on the campaign trail.
“The president wants to continue to take a campaign promise that he made, which was to have Mexico pay for a wall, and say, ‘No the rules have changed. Now, we’re still going to build a wall but we’re going to have the American taxpayer pay for it. We’re going to use the American taxpayer like an A.T.M. machine,'” he said. “That’s not the right direction to go.”
Tester said Mr. Trump shifted positions from his initial $1.6 billion border security request in the budget proposal for fiscal year 2019. “The president moved the goalposts and said, ‘No, now I want $5 billion,'” he said.
After meeting with U.S. service members in Iraq Wednesday, Mr. Trump said he would do “whatever it takes” to ensure Congress approves funding for a border wall. Earlier in December, in a remarkable Oval Office clash with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, the president vowed to take the blame if the government shut down. But he has recently sought to fault Democrats, dubbing it the “#SchumerShutdown” in a tweet on Sunday.
As the government will likely remain partially closed as the next Congress is sworn in Thursday, Pelosi and House Democrats will be charged with passing a spending bill with their new majority.
Tester called, two migrant children from Guatemala who were in Border Patrol custody, “unacceptable.” On Saturday, for the migrant children’s deaths.
But Tester said the deaths were “everybody’s fault” and highlighted Congress’ failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform in recent years.
Tester is one of two incumbent Democratic senators who survived tough challenges in the midterm elections in states the president won by more than 10 percentage points in 2016. He said his party can find more electoral success in rural, red states by listening to all constituents and not taking voters for granted.
“I don’t look like your basic Democrat,” he said. “My wife and I still farm and we still believe in the citizen-legislature model. We go everywhere in the state. I go everywhere in the state and I listen to Montanans, whether it’s in conservative areas or liberal areas, and take those ideas back to Washington D.C. and put them into action.”