Updated 8:56 p.m. | President Donald Trump wasted little time at a Montana rally Thursday painting Democratic Sen. Jon Tester as a “liberal” who tells Big Sky Country residents one thing and then votes the opposite way.
“I see Jon Tester saying nice things about me, but I say, ‘But he never votes for me,’” the president said of Tester’s votes against most of the Republicans’ top agenda items. “Tester doesn’t share your values. … Jon Tester says one thing when he’s in Montana. But I’m telling you … he does the exact opposite.”
Trump made clear at the event in Great Falls that he still holds a grudge against Tester over the failed nomination of Ronny Jackson, a Navy rear admiral and the president’s former military physician, to become Veterans Affairs secretary. Tester brought to public light allegations from whistleblowers about questionable management and conduct against Jackson that led to his decision to step aside.
“Tester showed his true colors with his … attacks on a great man, a friend of mine. … I sort of feel guilty about this whole thing,” Trump said. “Jon Tester said things about him that were horrible and not true. That’s probably why I’m here. I won Montana [in 2016] by so many points, I don’t have to come here.”
(Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., has backed Tester’s actions; the Defense Department inspector general has launched an investigation into Jackson’s behavior.)
Following the Jackson episode, Trump took to twitter and called for Tester’s resignation. He traveled Thursday to Montana to try to get the senator out the old fashioned way: by beating him at the polls.
And Trump and Republicans have a legitimate shot at doing just that. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates his bid for a third term against Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale as Tilts Democratic. A recent Gravis poll gave Tester an 8-point lead. He won by nearly 4 points in 2012.
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Hits keep coming
Trump led his case against Tester by noting that he voted against GOP-crafted bills that would have repealed the 2010 health care law and against the Republican tax overhaul the president signed into law three days before Christmas. He also hit the incumbent for criticizing his ban on entry into the U.S. by individuals from some Muslim-majority countries and a bill that would have ended late-term abortions.
“You wouldn’t think it’d play very well out here. How’d he get elected? You’ll have to explain that to me,” Trump said. “You can right your wrong in November. Matt Rosendale.”
“You deserve a senator who doesn’t just talk like he’s from Montana, but who actually votes like they’re from Montana,” he roared, as the crowd cheered. “A vote for Jon Tester is a vote for Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and the new leader of the Democrat Party, Maxine Waters.”
Trump called Rosendale onstage and allowed him to speak from the presidential podium, and the candidate used the opportunity to praise the “incredible” Trump for “fighting” for things that matter to Montanans. His praise was answered with loud cheers. He asked the audience members for their votes in November so he can help the president “continue his good work.”
Of Rosendale, Trump told the crowd: “You’re going to get on your side a real Montana fighter. He is a tough cookie. He’s going to fight for you.”
The Tester campaign defended the senator’s record in a post-rally statement, while saying Rosendale couldn’t be trusted to “defend Montana.”
“[I]f it’s good for Montana, Jon works with anyone from either party to get things done. If it’s bad for Montana, he’ll stand up to anyone,” spokesman Chris Meagher said. “East Coast developer Matt Rosendale is only looking out for himself and whatever out-of-state special interest group that is propping up his campaign with cash.”
(Rosendale moved to Montana from Maryland in 2002.)
Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., warmed up the crowd Thursday and spent parts of his address attacking Tester, noting that the senator had taken out newspaper ads that said Trump had signed nearly 20 bills of which Tester was a major proponent.
He accused Tester of “lies” and criticized him because he “went 15 years without a hunting license. … That’s why we call him ‘two-faced Tester.’”
“You can’t show up in blaze orange” after 15 years without a hunting license and pretend that you’re a hunter,” Trump Jr. said. “You can maybe make that work in New York City but … not this side of the Mississippi.”
Though the Trumps hammered him, Tester was playing it cool Thursday, a reflection of the Treasure State’s historical GOP lean and the president’s decisive win there in the 2016 presidential election.
“I’ll continue to work with anyone from any party to get things done for Montana,” he said in a statement released by his campaign. “President Trump, I’ll clear my schedule for whenever you are ready to sit down and talk about how we can get to work for Big Sky Country.”
Trump, jokingly, said that should he debate Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 general election, he would give her a kit to test her DNA to end the debate about whether she is of Native American descent, something she has asserted in the past. The president repeatedly referred to the Massachusetts Democrat as “Pocahontas,” and apologized to the real Native figure for using her name derisively.
Warren responded with a tweet, alluding to the administration’s earlier policy that separated migrant children from their parents at the border.
“While you obsess over my genes, your Admin is conducting DNA tests on little kids because you ripped them from their mamas & you are too incompetent to reunite them in time to meet a court order. Maybe you should focus on fixing the lives you’re destroying,” she said.
Trump made news before he even landed, inviting traveling reporters to his Air Force One office.
He said his short list for his second Supreme Court nominee features two to four names.
“I think I have it down to four people and I think of the four people, I have it down to three or two,” he said on Air Force One, according to a pool report. And he reiterated that he intends to pick a nominee that is “very close” to the mold of Gorsuch, the solidly conservative justice he nominated and the Senate confirmed last year. The announcement will be made Monday at 9 p.m., Eastern time, he said.
And the president weighed in on allegations that GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, a possible speaker or candidate for House Republican leader next year, knew about sexual abuse by an Ohio State University team doctor while he coached wrestling there.
“I don’t believe them at all. I believe him. Jim Jordan is one of the most outstanding people I’ve met since I’ve been in Washington,” he said. “I believe him 100 percent. No question in my mind. I believe Jim Jordan 100 percent. He’s an outstanding man.”