Congressional delegation weighs in on inauguration, moving forward

MISSOULA, Mont. — All three members of Montana’s Congressional delegation attended the inauguration of President Joe Biden, the 46th president of the United States, and Vice President Kamala Harris, the nation’s first woman and first person of color elected to that position.

“You know, as Joe (Biden) said — don’t tell me things can’t change, because things have changed. And hopefully this is the first of many women that will be in the executive branch, whether it’s vice president or president,” Sen. Jon Tester said. “I just think it’s a great sign for the country.”

“Kamala Harris was also — was a colleague of mine. We served together on the Homeland Security Committee. In fact, Kamala Harris and I were literally seatmates; she sat right next to me, so I had a chance to get to know her over the last few years,” Daines said. “And it’s just a reminder, you never know who’s going to be the next vice president of the United States.”

Tester, Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale talked to NBC Montana about moving forward in the spirit of unity and the message of coming together in Biden’s speech.

“It’s those moments when both sides of the aisle rise above partisan politics and remember that we have the opportunity to serve in the greatest country in the world,” Daines said, while describing looking at the hundreds of thousands of flags planted along the National Mall to represent the people who couldn’t attend the ceremony. “This is a reminder of the greatness of our country, and seeing both sides, Republicans and Democrats, sitting together today to honor and respect this very important transfer of power.”

“It was a very incredible ceremony, and I think the words that President Biden said about unity and bringing people — coming together, and the fact that this country has been through tough times before, and we’ve always come together,” Tester said. “And we’ve always made this country a better place than previous generations. Now it’s our turn to step up, I think, was the right message for the time.”

“That’s why I was there,” Rosendale said. “Because I do believe that there is a need for the parties to work together, but it takes more than just words, it takes actions.”

It was the first time Rosendale attended an inauguration ceremony.

“It’s a big thing. I have tremendous respect for these institutions, and it’s an honor to participate in them,” Rosendale said.

Rosendale said Sen. Roy Blunt’s words stuck with him, calling the inaugural event both commonplace and miraculous, because it’s been held every four years since 1789, through wars, the Great Depression and now the pandemic.

“It was different, but it was still this transition of governance, and I was very proud to represent Montana,” Rosendale said.

Already, all three delegation members and Gov. Greg Gianforte expressed criticism of Biden’s executive action revoking a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

“I think that that’s going to be bad for national security,” Rosendale said. “I think that that’s going to be bad for our energy dominance that we have been able to establish across the globe. And it’s also going to be very, very bad economically for the people of Montana. And so we sent a letter out and asking him to reconsider that.”

“That is not in the interest of Montana,” Daines said. “And so, while I heard the idea we want to unite and move forward, then just a few hours later he’s going to cancel a project — we’ve got some extensive environmental reviews — that Montanans overwhelmingly support. And so now, now it’s going to come time to put these words into action, and I’ve got to tell you, it was disappointing.”

In our interview, Daines said he hopes Tester will join him on a bill that would keep the pipeline moving forward. Tester told us he would have to see the bill first.

“I don’t have a problem with it going forward; in fact, I’ve promoted it. We’ve got hundreds and hundreds of pipelines going across the northern border. And I think it’s important that we get this thing built, too. It’s got to be done right. And it can’t be running over property owners in the process,” Tester said. “But I’m going to also tell you that the first thing that needs to be done in this country is we need to make sure we get the vaccines out to states so we get this pandemic behind us. The pandemic is the problem right now.”

Tester’s name has been featured in several articles along with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia as being two of the more moderate Senate Democrats who could break with their party on some issues, like raising the minimum wage to $15, which Biden included in his economic proposal.

“I think there’s things in every proposal, whether it’s put forth by Obama, Trump or now Biden, that the Senate is going to have to put their fingerprints on. I think it’s our job to do that. And I think we’ve got to be able to make it work for businesses and for working families,” Tester said.

We asked Tester how he plans to continue to represent Montana, where Republicans swept every state and federal race in November, while Democrats hold control of the White House, Senate and House.

“My job is to make sure that rural America is represented and be honest and be transparent with the people in the state of Montana,” Tester said. “And that’s what I’ve done for the last 14 years now, and that’s what we’ll continue to do in the United States Senate — make sure that Montana gets a fair shake and the people back here understand the challenges of rural America.”

All three discussed the deadly Capitol siege that happened two weeks ago in the very same spot Biden and Harris were sworn in Wednesday, which prompted the need for 25,000 National Guard troops to be sent to Washington for Inauguration Day.

Daines tweeted a photo with Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman at the inauguration ceremony Wednesday, calling him a “true American hero who helped save our Capitol and democracy just a few weeks ago.”

In a now-viral video, you can see Goodman luring rioters away from the Senate chambers during the insurrection Jan. 6. He escorted Harris to the inaugural ceremony Wednesday in his new role as acting deputy Senate sergeant at arms.

“I texted my family that picture after we took it, and my family said, ‘Please tell Officer Goodman on behalf of the Daines family, thank you,’ because he put himself in harm’s way in a significant way,” Daines said. “In fact, I jokingly told him, ‘Officer, I’m from Montana. That’s how we protect our cowboys during bull riding events. They distract the bull away from the cowboy and rescue the cowboy. That’s exactly what he did. He distracted those criminals, those terrorists, away from the U.S. Senate as we literally were evacuating out a different door.”

After the Capitol attacks, Tester blasted 13 of his Senate colleagues, including Daines, in an op-ed, saying they need to be held accountable, using the word “traitors,” after they indicated plans to oppose electoral votes from certain states.

Daines reversed course after the Capitol siege and voted to certify the results. We asked Tester if he has any regrets about using such strong language.

“No,” Tester said. “When I see it today, I get so mad the enamel on my teeth chip to watch those people come into the Capitol and ransack the Capitol. I think that people need to be responsible for their actions. We’re damn lucky that we didn’t lose public servants in that — in that raiding. I am telling you, they were hungry for blood. And I am telling you that if people continue to lie, to tell lies, then the same thing will happen again. Was it strong language? You bet. Because it’s the first time in 207 years that the Capitol’s been overrun by terrorists. And these were domestic terrorists brought on by actions of people in elected office.”

Daines has said the intention was never to overturn the election but to create a bipartisan commission to look at concerns about election integrity– something he still wants to see formed. We asked him Wednesday if he has a message for Montanans who still don’t accept the legitimacy of the Biden presidency.

“Well, it’s time to come together,” Daines said. “This election is over. It’s been certified, and the new president and vice president was sworn into office, and it is time that we debunk some of these wild conspiracy theories that frankly are false, while at the same time continuing to respect legitimate concerns about election integrity and fraud that we need to get to the bottom of, and it’s not going to overturn the election.”

We asked which specific conspiracy theories Daines thinks need to be debunked, and he mentioned the claims over Dominion voting machines switching votes from former President Donald Trump to Biden.

“That absolutely is something here that is false. There are lawsuits now being initiated regarding slander and libel regarding those who brought up these conspiracy theories,” Daines said. “The other important issue that needs to be settled is the role that Mike Pence, and generally the role of the vice presidents in the election certification process. Vice President Pence is not able to, nor should he have overturned any election results. There were some who believed he could do that. That’s just plain false.”

Rosendale was one of the 147 lawmakers who still voted to oppose electoral votes from certain states after the violence on Capitol Hill. Rosendale said he accepts Biden as our new president and echoed Daines’ sentiment that the move to oppose electors was not about overturning the election but addressing allegations of irregularities in certain states, despite multiple state audits, failed legal challenges and Attorney General William Barr declaring there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome.

The FBI now reports several members of the extremist group Oath Keepers participated in the Capitol riots on the day of the election certification by Congress.

Rosendale was photographed speaking at an Oath Keepers’ Second Amendment rally in Kalispell in 2014. NBC Montana asked Rosendale if he has any ties to the group and why he spoke at the 2014 event.

Rosendale said he didn’t believe the group actually organized the event but participated.

“I have zero connection to Oath Keepers, and an event that I spoke at in 2014 was in Kalispell, and it was for the Second Amendment — to support the Second Amendment,” Rosendale said. “I don’t have any affiliation with them, I have no communication with them, but I do support the Second Amendment.”

When asked if he denounced their involvement in the Jan. 6 attack, he said he absolutely denounces anyone who participated in that attack and has been very public about denouncing any political violence.

Moving forward, Rosendale says he hopes there won’t be a dramatic change in the immigration policy under a Biden presidency, saying he’s already been in contact with Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen about securing the border.

He also expressed concern about more regulations and taxation.

Rosendale said he hopes the country can get its arms around getting people healthy and getting COVID-19 vaccines distributed across the nation.

Rosendale has also expressed support for a measure that would limit House members to three terms and Senate members to two terms, something he said he’s always been an advocate for.

“I believe that our founders intended for people to serve — to perform their public service — for a limited amount of time and then return back to their to their communities and their regular jobs,” Rosendale said. “And so I think that is how you get fresh ideas. I think that is how you get the most untainted folks. And I just think it’s the best way for government to function.”

Daines said he didn’t speak to Pence or Trump Wednesday, but he anticipates having conversations with both moving forward.

“I thank them both for their service to our country,” Daines said. “I’m sure they both exited today with great memories, and you heard the president today, the vice president, as well, talked about this — the greatest honor they’ve had in their lives is to serve in those capacities for our great country.”