Dem Sen. Tester on the Border Wall: Trump Wants to ‘Use the American Taxpayer Like an ATM Machine’

Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) said President Donald Trump wants “to use the American taxpayer like an ATM machine” to pay for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Partial  transcript as follows:

BRENNAN: Your colleague Senator Shelby said negotiations are at an impasse and they need to find out what Democrats want and when. As the Democrat here what can you explain?

TESTER: Well first of all, Margaret, I would just say that you know we passed a bill a couple of year- couple of weeks ago to keep- keep the government open. And the House refused to take it up. I think that the fact we’re at a government shutdown is nothing short of ridiculous. I think that Senator Shelby and- and others are- are spot on. We need to sit down and- and pound out a deal. I think that that agreement that the- the Senate passed- in a bipartisan way, a couple weeks ago would have give us the opportunity to come to an agreement. The problem is-is- is that the president has one point three billion dollars from last year for- for border security, actually $21 billion for border security, one point three for the wall that he has spent very, very little of that.

BRENNAN: He says needs more.

TESTER: Yeah. And he says yet he needs more. Yet there’s no plan to go where the money how the money is going to be spent or any analysis on what’s most effective to secure the border. Bottom line is, Margaret, is that I don’t talk to anybody in the Senate that doesn’t want secure borders. It’s just how the money is going to be spent. And if the president wants to continue to take a campaign promise that he made, which was to have Mexico pay for a wall and say no the rules have changed now we’re still going to build a wall but we’re going to have the American taxpayer pay for it we’re going to use the American taxpayer like an ATM machine. That’s not the right direction to go.

BRENNAN: The White House says it’s Democrats who walked away from the table. You heard Senator Shelby say there there was an offer that he put forward of two and a half billion this year two and a half billion next year. What happened to that?

TESTER: Well I think that- that that deal never got passed leadership. But- but what did happen this last year is the president asked for one point six billion dollars in his budget proposal for this next year. The Appropriations Committee, which Senator Shelby chairs, and Senator Leahy is a ranking member of agreed to that in a bipartisan way. Senator Shelby voted for it. Senator McConnell voted for it. The president moved the goalposts and said, no, now I want five billion.

BRENNAN: Well and they’ve come down to around two. Why can’t Democrats come up from one point three?

TESTER: Well I think that that’s negotiations that need to be done between leadership between Senator Shelby, Senator Leahy and others and move forth. But the big thing is is that how is the money going to be spent. What’s the most effective way to secure that southern border. And that’s really what’s important here. I think we can do it with technology and manpower and much more effectively than- than with a wall.

BRENNAN: You heard Senator Shelby say there that he thinks probably you’re going to have to talk about things that Democrats have said they wanted including protections for dreamers. Is that the kind of sweetener that would get Democrats to reconsider?

TESTER: Well I think we’ve been here before. I was- I was in the room when the president said if- if Congress passes that I’m going to sign it. And then he moved back away from that. And so I think ultimately in the end we do need comprehensive immigration reform, there’s no doubt about that, Margaret. But- but in the end we need to know what the president wants. And hopefully he’ll stick to it. When we passed the bipartisan funding to go to the first of February, a couple weeks ago, the president said he was gonna sign it. And then after we passed it he said he wasn’t going to sign it. We need some predictability.

BRENNAN: The president said, of those two migrant children who’ve died in U.S. custody, that it’s Democrats fault. Essentially he’s arguing that there’s incentives that are in U.S. law that encourage people to cross and take this really dangerous migration route. How do you respond to that?

TESTER: Well I respond to the fact that we need comprehensive immigration reform that needs to be there for a while. I think it’s everybody’s fault. This is unacceptable. And- and the bottom line is is that if we’re able to get comprehensive immigration reform done, which is going to require some–

BRENNAN: That’s a big ask.

TESTER: Senate leadership and leadership in the White House too. Then I think that we will see things settle down in the southern border in a big, big way.

BRENNAN: Is there a cost for Democrats to appear to work with the president?

TESTER: No, I think what Democrats need to do is they need to work for the country and make sure that not only the southern border, but the northern border is secure make sure that we have the ability on the borders to be able to screen every vehicle coming across to make sure that drugs don’t come into this country. And I think that if we’re able to get a plan to be able to do that, which I don’t think is that hard to do, I think Democrats and Republicans can work together to- to make sure that we have a secure border and- and keep this country safe.

Follow Pam Key on Twitter @pamkeyNEN

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