BILLINGS — Before a trip to eastern Montana to visit with businesses concerning the Keystone XL pipeline, Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines faced questions surrounding the pandemic, a federal bill to raise the business tax, and recent comments concerning homegrown Montana meth labs he made while touring the southern border.
“You know those are, I'll just call them East Coast liberal elites that have not spent time with law enforcement as I have,” Sen. Daines said while in Billings on Wednesday.
The Senator met with MTN News for a sit-down at the Billings Public Library where he took questions surrounding a social media firestorm that erupted after entertainment media outlet TMZ and others called Daines “too nostalgic” when describing the different purity rates surrounding Mexican meth and meth labs that operated decades ago in Montana.
When asked if he felt what he said was taken out of context, Sen. Daines again asserted his experience talking with Montana law enforcement about an increase in drug activity in the state.
“I was just speaking with one of the sheriffs just yesterday, and he said, 'Steve, what you said was the truth',” he said.
Sen. Daines again took the opportunity to talk about how Montanans repeatedly feel the impacts of what’s happening on the southern border, with crime rates up in cities like Billings due to a drug nexus.
“They'll tell you it's Mexican, it's Mexican fentanyl, it's Mexican heroin coming across the southern border right into our state,” he said.
Sen. Daines said it’s a far more extreme caliber of the drug.
“You know, the days of the meth labs, you know 20 years ago, you talk to our drug enforcement professionals, let’s say that purity rates are around like 30%,” he said. “The problem we have is the purity rates now are over 90% with Mexican meth.”
He also spoke on the situation at the border after seeing it first-hand last week, calling the number of migrants gathered in a makeshift tent city “tragic.”
Sen. Daines said he is also looking ahead to his next task at hand; the Keystone XL pipeline and how a temporary pull of the permit will impact small Montana towns.
The Republican called the pipeline - that’s had much environmental opposition - “a sound infrastructure project entirely funded by the private sector.”
Sen. Daines says he’s not had a response from the Biden Administration after a group of western Republican lawmakers -- including himself and Montana Congressman Matt Rosendale -- urged President Biden to change his mind about blocking the Keystone construction.
“(It's) really a devastating impact of the cancellation of the Keystone pipeline,” said Sen. Daines. “And this is a project that provides $80 million a year, every year, of tax revenue spread across six counties in eastern Montana."
The 1,700-mile pipeline would span six states, including the far east corner of Montana, and carry oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
Sen. Daines co-sponsored a letter with four other senators asking Biden to support the pipeline and provide Montana’s eastern communities such as Baker, Terry, and Glendive with good-paying jobs.
“In Montana, there are counties that need some help right now across their state, it's those eastern Montana counties,” he said.
Sen. Daines also said he’s proud of Montana’s newly elected Attorney General Austin Knudsen for joining a lawsuit with several other states that seek to overturn Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone crossing permit.
He plans to see how the lawsuit pans out and vows to keep fighting.
Another issue that gets the senator fired up is a possible rise in taxes. “I’m very concerned about this idea that the President wants to increase taxes,” said Sen. Daines.
As a massive $2 trillion dollar infrastructure plan is unveiled from the Biden Administration, which is a plan to upgrade the nation’s transportation areas in dire need of repair, Sen. Daines cautioned the plan will raise taxes and incentivize jobs to move overseas.
“They cut taxes, you put more money back into the economy,” said Sen. Daines. “Allow businesses to decide where they want to invest and guess what, they create more jobs, wages go up, we win.”
However, Biden’s Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says Americans making less than $400,000 a year won’t see an increase in taxes.
Still, Sen. Daines says it's all relative. "My dad was a contractor and when you will allow small businesses to keep more of their hard-earned money, they pass out on to their employees, they pass out on creating more jobs.”
Finally, Sen. Daines touted the nation’s response to COVID-19 saying infection rates are starting to come down, and students are for the most part back in classrooms.
“We're seeing the light in the tunnel,” he said.