Great Falls Tribune: Daines expects Keystone to resurface under Trump

Sen. Steve Daines said Monday to look for the Keystone XL Pipeline rejected by the Obama administration to be resurrected under President-elect Donald Trump and to look for a leader who will shake conventional thought.

In a meeting with editors from the Great Falls Tribune, the Montana Republican also said the first 100 days of a Trump administration would focus on getting Trump’s cabinet and a new Supreme Court justice approved, a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a significant number of executive orders coming from White House rescinding decisions by Obama administration.

Daines, R-Mont., is finishing a tour of stops in all 56 Montana counties and his discussion Monday touched on Trump’s cabinet picks, China’s lifting of the ban on U.S. beef, the Blackfeet Water Compact, communications company T-Mobile officials telling him they are ready to “pull the trigger” to start up in the state and the future of health care.

And he talked about Trump’s win.

“He is shaking conventional thought and not beholden to anybody,” Daines said.

Daines is touring all the counties because he learned from growing up in Montana that it’s necessary to touch base with people in all parts of the state.

“It’s not one size fits all because of the diverse nature of (Montana,)” he said, later noting that a resounding theme on his stops has been comments about federal overreach.

In 2015 the Obama administration rejected the TransCanada pipeline that would have crossed through 281 miles of Montana into South Dakota and Nebraska, then connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. Obama officials said it would undercut U.S. efforts to clinch a global climate change deal.

Daines said he believes TransCanada will resubmit the project. He also said it will bring in $80 million in tax revenues annually to Montana. 

He said he worked into the early morning hours Saturday on the passage of the Blackfeet water compact in the Water Infrastructure Improvements Act for the Nation Act. He said it had been in the works for seven years.

“It was a battle and I was pleased to see it cross the finish line,” he said.

The WIIN Act authorizes the Blackfeet water compact and paves the way for more than $400 million of water, irrigation and infrastructure projects.

It is expected to be signed by President Barack Obama later this month. However, funding must be appropriated through the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., warned.

Daines said he recently met with Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Department of Transportation, Elaine Chao, and stressed to her importance of infrastracture to Montana. 

Daines described Trump not as ideological, but as pragmatic.

“He shook up both sides,” he said adding that Trump won through a rise of blue collar workers in states such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“No one saw that coming,” Daines said.

Daines, who spent several years in China while working for Procter and Gamble, talked about meeting with Chinese leaders in May in an effort to get them to life their ban on U.S. beef, which was imposed in 2003.

At the time Chinese officials wanted to talk about politics.

The Chinese lifted the ban in September and Daines said he hand-delivered a letter to the Chinese ambassador and thanked him. U.S. beef is expected to flow into China in 2017 and Daines said he has heard from Chinese officials that “I look forward to having Montana beef with you in Bejing.”

Daines said he expects the Affordable Care Act to be repealed, but replaced by the GOP. He said the ACA was in a “death spiral.”

“More Americans are down to one choice for a health care (insurance) provider,” he said. “It’s no longer a choice, it’s a monopoly.”

He said it would take a couple years to transition to a new system to allow for a softer landing. He also said some ACA provisions, such as allowing parents to keep their adult children on health care insurance policies until 26 and not allowing insurance companies to deny coverage due to pre-exhisting medical conditions, will carry over to a GOP plan.

Daines has provided Trump with some of his ideas, urging him to take action.

In a seven-page single-spaced Dec. 6 letter to Trump, Daines urged the president- elect to slash “countless Obama administration regulations and policies that have stifled job creation, economic growth and innovation.” 

Soon after, the AFL-CIO called portions of the letter “beyond disturbing,” saying it included an “all-out assault on the rights working American men and women.”

Al Ekblad, Montana AFL-CIO executive secretary, said eliminating the overtime rule would result in the loss of hundreds of millions in wages. 

“We are honestly baffled by your letter, Sen. Daines,” Ekblad wrote. “Your letter demonstrates a blatant disregard for and exploitation of workers in favor of large corporations.”

Daines said he has received a reply from the Trump administration, thanking him for his comments. Daines said union leadership is out of touch with its members.

“Ask members of union if they want to build the Keystone pipeline or not, save Colstrip or not,” he said, adding he would argue that it was union members who elected Trump.