The Montana Broadcasters Association made a last minute pivot Sunday morning from a debate format to more of a moderated town hall when it became clear only Senator Jon Tester would be participating.
Tester, who’s running for a third term, fielded questions from broadcasters at the Whitefish Lake Lodge for a little less than an hour on topics ranging from energy and climate change, to border security, to making health care more affordable.
Here’s what Tester had to say on the recent reports on the separation of families at the southern border: "Being able to make people so they don’t want to come across the border, a deterrent, is important too, but a deterrent where you rip kids away from their parents is not acceptable."
On Sunday after the forum, Tester tweeted he is co-sponsoring the Keeping Families Together Act, which seeks to limit the separation of families at or near ports of entry.
The Broadcasters Association also asked Tester to respond to his recent spat with President Trump over the president’s pick to lead the VA.
"I did my job," he said. "The president didn't like the job I did, but the constitution is clear, and I'll continue to do my job."
Tester also brought up what he calls his ability to get things done under the Trump administration, while holding the country’s chief executive accountable.
Tester’s Republican challenger, current state auditor Matt Rosendale, had reportedly told two television stations that he would attend Sunday’s debate. But last week, his campaign said the debate conflicted with Rosendale’s Father’s Day plans and that it was scheduled without his input.
Tester called it a missed opportunity for Montanans to hear from their Senate candidates.
Green Party candidate Steve Kelly and Libertarian Rick Breckenridge were not invited to the debate because the Association said they did not meet a set of criteria that signal they’re significant candidates.
These include whether the candidate has articulated views on more than a single issue; if the candidate has fundraised outside their own financial resources; if the candidate can show at least ten percent support in independent polls and whether the candidate can prove he or she is actively campaigning.
The Broadcasters Association declined to be interviewed about Sunday’s scheduled debate. A spokesman said the Board will likely discuss the possibility of a rematch between Senator Tester and challenger Rosendale at its next meeting.