HELENA – As President Trump singled out Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester for criticism last week, the senator’s detractors also labeled him as no friend of the president – in a state won by Trump by 20 points in 2016.
“He’s not a supporter of the president,” Republican U.S. Senate candidate Russ Fagg told the New York Times.
But a look at Tester’s 2017 voting record shows he has supported Trump more than many Democrats.
At the same time, however, Tester has voted against the president and Republicans on some key issues, such as repealing “Obamacare” and the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
According to Congressional Quarterly Magazine, which tracks all votes, Tester voted with Trump on 52 percent of the 117 Senate votes where Trump took a position in 2017. Most of the votes were confirmation votes on Trump appointees.
By comparison, Montana’s other U.S. senator, Republican Steve Daines, voted with the president 98 percent of the time on the same votes.
The Democrat who supported Trump the least was New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, voting with the president only 8 percent of the time.
Congressional Quarterly also said that Tester voted with Senate Democrats on key votes 87 percent of the time – a relatively low ranking among Democrats.
The Democrat with the lowest ranking on party unity – Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who, like Tester, is up for re-election in a conservative state – clocked in at 64 percent.
Tester’s first campaign ad of the year, released last month, highlighted the 13 bills that he’s co-sponsored that have been signed into law by President Trump.
Still, Tester voted against the president on a half-dozen close, controversial votes on key measures in 2017. Those include:
GOP tax-cut bill: The bill overhauling the federal tax code to cut income taxes for corporations and individuals passed the Senate in December on a 51-48 vote and Trump signed it into law a two days later. Tester voted no, saying it would explode the federal deficit and wouldn’t benefit the average person. Daines and Montana’s only U.S. House member, Republican Greg Gianforte, voted yes.
Repealing “Obamacare”: The U.S. Senate rejected the last attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature health-care bill, on a 49-51 vote last July. Tester was among the 51 “no” votes against the repeal; Daines voted yes.
Confirming Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch: The key vote here was whether to require a three-fifths vote, or 60 senators, to confirm Gorsuch. That vote came last April, when a motion to require the higher vote threshold failed 48-52. Tester voted for the motion; Daines voted against it. Gorsuch was confirmed the next day, 54-45, with Tester voting no and Daines voting yes.
Confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos: The Senate confirmed DeVos on a 51-50 vote last February, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a tie. Public-education groups bitterly opposed DeVos, a billionaire Republican donor who has been a big advocate for private schools. Tester voted no and Daines voted yes.
Arbitration rule for consumer contracts: The Senate voted 51-50 last October, again with Pence breaking a tie, to repeal a consumer rule that said companies could not require arbitration clauses in consumer contracts. Critics of the move said companies are using the arbitration clause to shield themselves from court action because of bad behavior. Tester voted no and Daines voted yes. Gianforte voted for the bill in the House.
Confirmation of “not qualified” judge for federal appeals court: The Senate voted 50-48 in December to confirm Omaha attorney Steve Grasz for the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, after the American Bar Association had rated him “not qualified” because of strong political statements he had made on abortion and gay rights. Tester voted no and Daines voted yes.
Stream protection rule: The Senate voted 54-45 in February 2017 to nullify an Obama administration rule that required surface coal mines to avoid disturbing streams and land within 100 feet of streams. Critics of the rule said it would put many coal-mining jobs at risk. Tester voted no and Daines voted yes.
On some key votes last year, Tester voted with Republicans and, sometimes, the president.
For example, he voted with a 57-43 majority in February 2017 that nullified a Social Security rule that had barred people from buying guns, if they needed help managing disability benefit because of mental impairment.
He also voted for a law last June compelling relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem (it passed 90-0), and for a bill imposing sanctions on Russia, North Korea and Iran, and forbidding the president from lifting Russian sanctions without congressional approval.
The latter bill, opposed by the president, passed the Senate 98-2 last July.