As Congressional Democrats and Republicans continue to fight over the fate of undocumented immigrants in the DACA program, the federal government is barreling towards a shutdown Friday.
Yellowstone Public Radio’s Nate Hegyi sat down with Montana’s Republican Senator, Steve Daines, to talk about the potential for a shutdown, his legislative goals in 2018 and President Trump’s salty language.
Nate Hegyi: The country is on the edge of yet another federal government shutdown. This time the fight is over undocumented immigrants under the DACA program. What are your thoughts on that program? Do you think it should continue?
Steve Daines: Well, first of all, I think it’s ridiculous that brinksmanship on both sides has brought us to threats of shutdown. I hope that reasonable minds can prevail and that we’ll get through this. I think there are better odds that we will get through this than not by the end of this week. But I don’t support extending the DACA program. This was an unconstitutional act that President Obama via executive order when he was president and I hope that we can find a solution going forward here that is broader than just the issue on DACA.
NH: And so you mentioned brinkmanship. During those negotiations last week the president made vulgar remarks about Haiti and some African countries. Especially considering Helena’s new mayor is an immigrant from Liberia, what’s your reaction to the president’s remarks?
SD: Yeah, well, it was salty for sure, but we’ve got bigger issues. The media has made a big deal about that. I think it’s time to move on and focus on getting this problem resolved and bringing both sides to the table and get past this threat of a shutdown that is out there looming for the country on Friday and get on with doing the nation’s business.
Senator Daines also mentioned some of his top legislative priorities for the new year. They included selling more Montana beef in China, expanding the state’s energy sector, and forest management reform.
SD: If we can reduce the risk and severity of our wildfires through better forest management practices that’s a good thing for our economy and natural resources, it’s a good thing for the economy and tourism.
NH: University of Montana fire experts say even if you remove trees, the vegetation left behind is still going to burn. The state’s first-ever climate assessment says longer and more severe wildfires may be the new normal. So why focus on projects like thinning forests rather than climate change?
SD: Well, there is significant data and we have plenty of examples of where a thinned forest, a managed forest, has provided opportunities for us to reduce the severity of wildfires. We are never going to be able to remove wildfires, but we can lower the risk of wildfires and the severity of wildfires. There are some of those, more in the extreme environmental camp in Montana that never want to see another tree cut down in our state. I strongly disagree with that. Thinned and managed forests produce jobs, they produce healthier forests, it improves wildlife habitat, so these are all reasons why we need to strike the right balance here and have forest management reforms to allow us access to our public lands so that we can better manage our forests.
NH: And so you’re saying, ‘striking the right balance,’ between forest management practices. What are some other things you can do to help prevent or lessen the severity of wildfires?
SD: Well, you mention too, on the issue of climate change, one of the best carbon sinks is a healthy, robust forest. You think about all the carbon emitted in a raging wildfire versus the carbon that’s absorbed from a healthy, managed forest, so that’s how I see it all tying together here. And we need to also remove the frequency of litigation on sound, collaborative forest management projects. Unfortunately we’ll have our collaboratives that get together with wildlife groups, other conservation groups, timber groups, and they’ll come together with local officials for an approved collaborative timber project, only to be stopped by extreme environmental groups that file lawsuits against these timber projects. I’d love to see arbitration instead of this litigation so at least we can resolve the differences more quickly and more cost effectively.