U.S. Senator Steve Daines, R-MT, was greeted by supporters and protesters during his visit to the state Capitol.
Such stops to the Montana Legislature generally are routine for members of Montana’s Congressional Delegation. This year is different. Daines is among other federal lawmakers who’ve been besieged by constituents upset about the agenda promoted by President Trump and the Republican majority in Congress.
Daines scheduled a late morning press conference at the Capitol to announce his support for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. He was flanked by Republican legislators who echoed their respective support.
Gorsuch will need 60 votes to win U.S. Senate confirmation. That means the Republican majority will need to persuade a few Democrats to support Gorsuch. When asked, Daines said he has not directly asked U.S. Senator Jon Tester, D-MT, to vote for Gorsuch. But the conservative group Judicial Crisis Network has launched TV ads aimed at Tester for that vote.
The press conference was accessible to the public because it was held in the hallway overlooking the rotunda. So while the talking points were focused on the high court nominee, the questions from the press quickly turned to what the Republican thought about the larger than normal crowd of supporters and protesters gathered to watch.
“I think it’s great,” said Daines. “It’s so important that we allow every Montanans voice to be heard. That is why we have the first amendment, the freedom to assemble, the freedom to speak, the freedom of the press,” he said. “These are core freedoms contained in the first amendment and it’s so important that every Montana voice is heard.”
Daines then repeated he thought Gorsuch is the right judge. The comment elicited some cheers and boos from the gathered crowd.
“Let’s not forget a basic point of this last election,” Daines replied. “Hillary Clinton lost by 20 points in Montana. Donald Trump won by a landslide in this state. While every voice must be heard in Montana the reality is the people of Montana rejected Hilary Clinton and voted for Donald Trump.”
Again the crowd responded with a mix of cheers and boos. When another reporter tried to ask a question, Daines left the lectern and the crowd began to chant.
Daines was originally scheduled to address the Montana House of Representatives Tuesday. When word got out, hundreds of demonstrators gathered on the steps of the Capitol that day to demand Daines hold a Town Hall meeting. Because Daines canceled and rescheduled his visit only a few of those demonstrators returned the next day.
One was a man dressed in a bright yellow chicken costume, “I felt that was incredibly chicken (for Daines to cancel) so I wanted to show up and let him know that concerned citizens need to hear from him.”
“Clearly that press conference was a deflect tactic to talk about the Supreme Court and not talk to Montana voters about the things they are concerned about that’s why I’m a concerned chicken,” he added.
When asked for his name, the man declined and said, “I’m just here as a symbol today, not as an individual. So, a ‘concerned chicken’ probably encompasses what I am today more than who I am on a normal day.”
“I am asking for a Town Hall meeting,” said Niki Whearty of Helena who also returned to the Capitol. “I’m asking for some honest and direct answers.”
Whearty said she’s concerned about Daines lack of action about Russia and disappointed about Daines’ vote for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Not everyone at the press conference was a protester. Carol Dean and her sister Fee Lamping held hand lettered signs in support of Daines.
“I need to come forward and speak up against people I think are not really knowing the truth,” said Dean who describes herself as a Democrat. “I’m not a right winger. We need to do something good in our government.”
When Daines addressed the Montana House just over an hour later, he mentioned numerous times his face-to-face visits with Montanans all across the state.
“I want to take a moment to re-emphasize that no matter where you come from or who you voted for, my job is to represent all Montanans. The office I hold belongs to the 1,032,949 residents of the Treasure state, of which all of us here represent. We are not here to be served but to serve,” he said.
When Daines was asked about that at a second press conference after his speech, he repeated that he represents all Montanans.
“What we need to do is find a method so we really make sure we get the entire state covered because guess what Montana is bigger than Missoula, Bozeman and Helena,” he said. “And I say this as somebody who’s been all over the state. I mean I get it. The folks who are out there asking and protesting, they oppose Keystone, they oppose coal, they oppose school choice, they support Obamacare, they support Elizabeth Warren. It’s pretty clear what their views are.”
Daines said he will continue to hold telephone Town Hall meetings with Montanans. He reached into his wallet and pulled out a card with information on how to join.