Daines flip-flopping for veterans just part of a long line of questionable behavior

August 11, 2022 4:50 am

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on March 26, 2022 (Photo by Marisa Demarco | Source New Mexico)

Not so fast, Sen. Steve Daines.

Sure, we can all applaud you for voting for the PACT Act … But let’s remember you were against it twice before you were for it.

After more than a two-year saga to get legislation that both political parties could agree to, Sens. Jon Tester, D-Montana, and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, finally got comprehensive veterans legislation that protected veterans exposed to toxic chemicals during their service in the military (think: Agent Orange).

But in a remarkable fit of childishness and irritation, Senate Republicans originally voted down the PACT Act in what should have been a procedural measure, almost scotching it, because … well, we don’t know for certain, but the best anyone has been able to do is say it had something to do with payback for Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia striking a deal with the rest of Democratic leadership to support some major reforms for tax, debt reduction and the climate.

So, Daines and most of his Republican colleagues nearly punished sick and dying veterans to make a political point.

Not a good look, folks.

Even worse, on the Senate floor as his vote was being tallied, Daines appeared to fist-bump fellow Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as the legislation fails. Because, you know, nothing is worth celebrating more than screwing veterans.

An even worse look.

In an equally remarkable episode of mealy-mouthedness, after the Senate considered the measure less than a week later with virtually no changes, Daines flipped his vote, supporting the measure, and crowed about how he was pleased to support it.

But, Sen. Daines, you don’t get it both ways.

I am not sure what is more insulting: That he voted against this common-sense legislation in the first place, or that, after all the publicity, he tried to sell most Montanans for chumps, as if we couldn’t remember.

It’s not the first time Daines has been a tough-guy party liner in Washington, D.C., only to seem like an affable, common-sense regular guy. I can’t recall the number of times I saw video on social media of him avoiding protesters and critics by slinking or running past upset folks at the Bozeman airport (a little cat-and-mouse game that used to be played before COVID-19 when Daines would run away from hard questions and angry constituents a la Josh Hawley on Jan. 6).

Remember, that Daines was also the guy to gavel Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, into silence as she tried to push back against what was then a Republican majority.

I could say that this isn’t how Montanans act, but I’d have to consider the actions of other state politicians like Daines, Greg Gianforte and Matt Rosendale, all of whom were born out-of-state and have a distinctly non-Montanan edge to their political game.

But beyond that, all of these events have one important common theme: They all are premised upon the idea that Daines believes we don’t see, don’t remember, and will forget.

However, part of our job as journalists is to hold politicians, Daines included, accountable for their actions. Our job is being the collective memory, and it is why so many politicians have declared war on the media, or declared us the enemy. If we’re the enemy, if we’re the problem, the focus and attention deflects from their otherwise awful behavior.

But fist-bumping Cruz, under any circumstances, is rotten. It only gets worse when you factor in screwing veterans in the bargain.

You may recall that even fellow GOP invertebrate Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina famously quipped that if Cruz was killed on the Senate floor, no one would convict the perpetrator. That’s a helluva endorsement from an equally smarmy member of your own party. And yet our own Senator has decided to pal around with a man that even his own party despises.

Pariahs of a feather, I guess.

Still, Daines’ lack of support for the veterans and his behavior deserve an answer more than a response cloaked in what-aboutism, the new practice of politicians ducking answering a tough question by posing another question. In other words, rather than dealing with his own voting record, or his own actions, Daines will likely ask about all the sins of other politicians, avoiding any accountability for his own.

For more than a year, I have periodically sent questions regarding news stories, not columns, to Daines’ office only to have them ignored. And the truth is: The policy has worked. It’s avoided accountability and more importantly, some particularly uncomfortable questions.

Quite frankly, it’s the same kind of behavior I’d expect from someone too afraid to answer my questions but confident enough to fist-bump the most hated man in the Senate.

The truth is: I don’t need answers to my questions because Steve Daines’ actions have already indicted him.

The real question, and one that he’s counting on, though, is not what I am going to do, but it is: How long will you remember?

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming.