Steve Daines in Butte

Sen. Steve Daines, during an editorial board meeting Tuesday at The Montana Standard: "You have to unilaterally condemn the white supremacists."

Walter Hinick, The Montana Standard

Sen. Steve Daines believes that the Affordable Care Act still needs to be repealed and replaced. But in the meantime, he does not support President Donald Trump's stated plan to sabotage the current healthcare law.

After the Senate failed to pass healthcare reform legislation last month, Trump repeatedly threatened to cut off cost-sharing payments to insurance companies, which lower premium costs.

"I don't like that," Daines said. "What's the matter with that is, people get hurt. We need to solve this problem, not just hope it goes away. It's not going away."

In a wide-ranging editorial board discussion with The Montana Standard and the Helena Independent Record Tuesday, Daines also pointed to some congressional success in the Trump Administration -- the passage of several bills benefiting veterans.

"These are bills that have languished in a couple of Congresses," Daines said.

"When I first met with (VA) Secretary (David) Shulkin I asked him, 'What's the one thing we can do to help you do your job?' He said, 'Pass the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Act,' and we did," Daines said. "It gives him a chance to reshape the agency."

Daines said he and Sen. Jon Tester would continue to work together to secure funding for a veterans' home in Butte, as well as a VA facility in Miles City.

"We're both on the Appropriations Committee, which is quite unique," Daines said, emphasizing that because of the rules of the Senate, "Montana has as much power as California. ... credit the founding fathers for that."

Daines, commenting on the smoky conditions and the bad fire year in Montana, said, he favors changing the funding system for fighting wildfires in the federal government. "The Forest Service shouldn't have to have its entire budget" held hostage by fires, he said. "That's not the way we deal with other natural disasters like hurricanes."

Daines said he's looking forward to bringing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to Butte in the fall to meet with local officials and community activists on Superfund issues.

"Our offices are trying to get together on dates," Daines said. "The first place we're bringing him in Montana is Butte."

Daines said that while visits from Cabinet secretaries "can be dog and pony shows," he said that in this case, Pruitt wants "to get in the room with community leaders ... close the door and have some real frank conversations."

While Trump's EPA boss has been cast as a destructive force by environmentalists, "The jury is still out on Scott Pruitt," Daines insisted.

"He's a former attorney general and he's understands litigation," Daines added. "He said he's not afraid to go back after these companies (Superfund responsible parties) if they haven't got the job done."

Regarding President Trump's statement on Afghanistan Monday, Daines said it sounded to him like "the President is going to allow the boots on the ground to have the largest voice in formulating what needs to be done, and that's a good thing." He said that in conflicts like Vietnam and Iraq, the country learned that "when politicians run the war we lose men and women on the battlefield and don't achieve clear victory."

Asked about Trump's reaction to the Charlottesville violence last week, Daines said, "You can't stutter in that situation. You can't hold back. You have to unilaterally condemn the white supremacists, the bigots, who are everything we are not as an American people."

Daines cited the removal of the ban on U.S. beef in China as an example of progress during the Trump Administration.

While he said it would be a "mischaracterization" to say that a congressional delegation trip to China he participated in was responsible for that decision, he does feel it helped.

"We smuggled in four tenderloin steaks from Montana and gave them to the premier," Daines said. "We put them in a cooler from Walmart, probably made in China, and carried it in there with a nice silk cover on it. They probably thought it was some precious antique."

When he gave Premier Li Keqiang the steaks, he said, he included a picture of Miles City rancher Fred Wacker, and a complete provenance describing the beef's journey from Wacker's ranch to a feedlot in Nebraska and on to China.

Daines said he thought another benefit of what he described as warmer relations with China was China's understanding that it needs to be engaged in helping to control North Korea.

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