Great Falls Tribune: Daines talks health care, DeVos vote, more in telephone town hall

Montana residents came out swinging during Sen. Steve Daines’ telephone town hall Thursday night, and they didn’t let up over the next 90 minutes.

They called on the Republican to explain why he silenced Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on the Senate floor, his vote for Betsy DeVos for the secretary of education post and his plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Daines said his town hall, which was announced on Twitter 90 minutes before its start, was the 13th one he has done over the last two years, and more than 200,000 Montana households had the opportunity to connect with the call. About 25,000 people listened in on Thursday, according to Jason Thielman, Daines’ chief of staff.

The first question came from a Bozeman woman who asked Daines to explain his use of Rule 19 to silence Warren on Feb. 8 during the nomination process of Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general and whether it was appropriate to use it.

Daines said that as Warren was speaking, she was using words from the late Ted Kennedy that were very strong and that Rule 19 doesn’t allow a senator to impugn fellow senators.

“When you walk on the floor of the Senate, you never want to forget you are representing the people” of the United States and especially of Montana, he said.

Shortly after, a caller asked Daines why he voted for Betsy DeVos for secretary of education and voiced concern that the DeVos family had given campaign contributions to the senator.

The Tribune has previously reported that, self-described as the nation’s only free, nonpartisan, verifiable archive of contributions to political campaigns in all 50 states, says Daines has received donations from individual members of the DeVos family totaling $46,800.

Daines denied that the contributions had any sway in his vote. He said he spent a lot of time talking to DeVos and said that she’s pro-public education and also pro-school choice, saying he believes you can be both.

The senator followed up by saying teachers unions came out strongly against DeVos, but that he believes she will make a good secretary of education.

Next came the first of several questions and comments on the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare. A woman from Dutton said that Obamacare has been a godsend for her, and she has seen her premiums and deductibles go down, which has allowed her to get surgery that she has put off for years.

She asked the senator why he would want to repeal the ACA without something to put in its place.

Daines said that he expected repeal and replace will happen at the same time, and very thoughtful discussions have been taking place. He said the woman had a “good story,” but was an exception to what he has been hearing from others. Indeed, a later caller said her premium went from $400 a month to more than $1,000.

Daines said the way to lower health care cost is provide more choice.

“I believe a solution led by Montana will be better than one led by Washington, D.C.,” he said.

Another caller voiced concern about the nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA. He has reportedly sued the EPA several times and questions the science behind climate change

Daines said Pruitt will strike the right balance between fighting for natural resource jobs and also protecting public lands, including never selling them off. He said Pruitt has bipartisan support.

Daines also touched on refugees, saying we are at war with radical Islam, and that he is thankful President Donald Trump is willing to use that term. He said he disagreed with judges’ ruling on Trump’s travel ban and says that he subscribes to the “Ronald Reagan thought of ‘Peace through Strength.'”

In the end, Daines was asked whether he would hold town halls in Montana. While he mentioned several times throughout the call that he has visited all 56 counties, the senator did not say he would hold any live town halls meetings. He said tele-town halls let him reach more Montanans by using technology and that not everyone can get out to a live town hall.