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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Daines Stumps For Gorsuch, Spars With Protesters At Montana Capitol

Montana Senator Steve Daines at the state capitol in Helena in February, 2017
Freddy Monares - UM Legislative News Service
Montana Senator Steve Daines spoke at the state Capitol Wednesday, February 22.

When U.S. Senator Steve Daines arrived to the state Capitol Wednesday to speak with House lawmakers and tout support for President Trump's Nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, a crowd of protesters, and a few supporters, were there to meet him.

The senator showed up a day later than planned, rescheduling his visit minutes before a protest begin on the capitol steps, Tuesday. Event organizers demanded Daines put more effort into listening to his constituents, especially those who might disagree with him.

Daines' visit to the state Capitol comes at a time when Republican lawmakers nationwide are being hounded by Democrats, unhappy with their losses on election day, and now their representation in Congress. 

Daines started his day at the Capitol with a brief press conference aimed at putting pressure on his fellow senator, Democrat Jon Tester, who has yet to say if he'll support Trump's Supreme Court Nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch.

With a line of state Republican leaders backing him, Senator Daines called Gorsuch a "mainstream judge" with "impeccable credentials".

"I hope we can bring the entire U.S. Senate together and get a good, solid, bipartisan vote. I hope. I certainly hope that Senator Tester, our senior senator will join me."

Tester is also being pressured by the national conservative group Judicial Crisis Network, which has aired ads in Montana and elsewhere to push Democrats to support Gorsuch.

The ad directs viewers to, "Tell Jon Tester, stop the obstruction, confirm Gorsuch."

As Senator Daines spoke in support of Gorsuch, protesters — including one man in a chicken suit — gathered around him, remnants from the rally the day before.

When asked by a reporter what he thought of the protesters that came to his press conference, Daines said it's important to allow people to speak:

"Let's not forget a basic point of this last election. Hillary Clinton lost by 20 points in Montana. Donald Trump won in a landslide in this state. And while every voice must be heard in Montana, the reality is, the people of Montana rejected Hillary Clinton and voted for Donald Trump."

As several reporters tried to ask additional questions the crowd became loud and Senator Daines and his staff walked away from the press conference. Protesters started chanting "do your job."

"I think they have a right to protest. I think their anger is sad," says Carol Dean from Helena. She came out to support Senator Daines.

"I think he is doing a good job. The reason I say that with reservation is, the year is just started. Everybody is going Trump gotta do this, and I mean, my God, it's been a month. I think for the time they have been in they've done good. And nobody is going to make everybody happy, nobody. I understand part of their plight, but anger doesn't get you anywhere. What brought me here is I'm a registered Democrat, but I vote the man. And I voted for Steve Daines."

A couple of hours later Daines spoke in the state House chamber. His theme: Montanans are better off when they make the decisions impacting their future, not people in Washington D.C.

Daines made that point several times, on issues including what he calls the failure of the Affordable Care Act:

"It is time to return the decision making authority back to the states, and we're going to do that when we repeal and replace Obamacare. It is time to let Montanans run Montana."

Daines said that soon after President Trump took office, he created a list of priorities and shared it with Trump.

"The very first item I listed on my to-do list for President Trump was to roll back the EPA's power plan and I've been assured we will see this movement imminently. And it's a simple concept. Let Montana energy power America. Let Montana energy power the world."

Near the end of his more than 35 minute speech, Daines responded to some of the criticism he's received from protesters. He says he regularly holds what he calls telephone town hall meetings.

"In fact, just last week we dialed in 200,000 numbers. And had tens of thousands of folks stay on the line and listen. We literally have families and they'll put it on speakerphone and have mom and dad and the kids listening to a Montana town hall meeting. I'll be hosting another one next month. If you're interested, it's pretty simple, just text "senatordaines" one word to 828282."

Speaking with the press after his speech, Daines said the claims that he only listens to people who agree with him are not true:

"I mean I get it. The folks who are out there asking, protesting, they oppose Keystone, they oppose coal, they oppose school choice, they support Obamacare, they support Elizabeth Warren. It's pretty clear what their views are."

Daines say he continues to encourage anyone to call in to his telephone town halls. Protesters continue to push back, saying they want to speak with him face to face.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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