Transcript: Sen. Jon Tester on "Face the Nation," May 26, 2019

Tester blasts Trump for China trade war

The following is a transcript of the interview with Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana that aired Sunday, May 26, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to turn now to Montana Senator Jon Tester. He is the top Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee and he joins us this morning from Bozeman, Montana. He is also a working farmer which is a unique perspective, and I do want to get to you on some of those tariff issues. But first off this is of course Memorial Day weekend. There were four veterans suicides at V.A. facilities in the month of April alone there about 20 a day according to the last tally I saw from last year. How is this rate not slowing down?

SENATOR JON TESTER: Well the bottom line is- is that we've got to do more. Even one suicide is too many, Margaret and we have a bill, Senator Moran and I do, to really kind of take mental health outside the box for the V.A. to be able to include things like yoga to include things like equine therapy, other things that have been proven to be able to work for folks who have mental health issues. And it also deals with telehealth for rural areas like my state of Montana and other rural states around- around this country. But the truth is is what we've done hasn't been enough, Margaret. And we've got to do more. It's why we've need to get Senator Moran and my bill across the finish line. If we're able to do that it gives the V.A. some more tools to get more- to get more methods out there to be able to- to deal with our veterans. But we have failed so far. There's a no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Congress has given the V.A., I think some good tools to use. They need to step it up even greater than before. And by the way the other thing that needs to be done is we need to remove the stigma from this so that the people who do have problems do come forward because oftentimes many of these suicides happen and- and the V.A.- they haven't- they haven't take advantage of the access to V.A. care.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Senator. Thank you for that. I want to ask you though as we mentioned, you're a working farmer. I think you're the only one in the Senate who's actually working the farm himself. The president had a 16 billion dollar bailout for farmers. This is the third round so far. Will this make up for the kind of financial losses you're seeing in your home state?

SEN. TESTER: It's a band aid there's no doubt about that, and there are some folks that are up against the wall, way too many folks. We're seeing a lot of folks that have been filed for bankruptcy in production agriculture. But it is a band aid. Farmers want to get their check from the marketplace not from the federal government. And as a previous person said you know the- the fact is the president has created this problem and then he turns around and- and writes out a 16 billion dollar check on the taxpayer dime. I'm not saying it isn't needed, it absolutely is needed in a lot of cases where folks are up against it. But the truth is is that the reason we have bad commodity prices right now at the farm gate is because we've got a president who wen tinto a trade war with without a plan, without our allies and it ends up where family farm agriculture ends up paying the price. And that doesn't help with food security and it certainly doesn't help with our economy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Grassley reportedly will be applying for some of this aid for his family farm. Will you be tapping into it and apply for it as well?

SEN. TESTER: Well we'll see how it's going to be divvied up. I imagine wheat is going to get part of it and we do raise grains on my place and so we will see. But look, our place has been hurt by these tariffs just as every other farm has been hurt by these tariffs. And we will- we will see as it goes but I intend to- to take advantage of it because it will help pay the bills.

MARGARET BRENNAN: How long can farmers go before you see the bankruptcies that you have been predicting?

SEN. TESTER: I think we're already starting to see it. Look, I serve on the Banking Committee too and a lot of the bankers told me a year ago the farmers had about 18 months before we started seeing a real disaster in ag- in ag country. I think we're already seeing that ag disaster coming around. And- and the sad part about this it wasn't caused by weather events, it wasn't caused because of consolidation in the marketplace and prices were low and inputs were too high. What we've seen is we've seen a president who's act irresponsibly in the trade. He had a plan to hold China accountable but yet didn't know how to implement the plan to hold China accountable. And in the end we don't have an end game and- and far- farmers have been paying the price. I've said this before, Margaret, maybe said it to you before, but we should have done this through the financial system. We should've had our allies on board. China's been a bad actor but not just the United States, to countries all over the world. Let's bring the world community together and apply pressure instead of just the farmers of the United States of America.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You gave a speech this week making the case that Democrats actually do have a shot at winning back rural America. But you said they can't promise things that don't make sense like free college or jobs for everybody. Have you seen a Democratic candidate that fits that description for you?

SEN. TESTER: No, but I've seen some policies come out of some Democrats that fit that- that description, and I think it's important that we stay connected with reality. College is too high and we need to figure out ways to drive it down, but I'm not sure that there doesn't need to be skin in the game if you go to college. The same thing with healthcare and- and one of the proposals that was put out said you're going to have a- a- a job, the job's going to pay livable wages. You just can't- you just can't do that. It's- it's not- it's not that easy. It'd be great- it's great to say it but it's hard to implement it. So I- let's stay- let's stay grounded in common sense and move forward. And I've seen the candidates by the way, across the board that are running for president do- do a good job--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Your home state governor is one of them.

SEN. TESTER: --of staying grounded. My home state governor is one of them. That is correct. Yep. And so the bottom line is that whoever comes out of this 24 or 25 people who are running for president, needs to be able to connect with rural America and you do that by applying common sense.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you going to endorse your governor?

SEN. TESTER: I'm going to be endorsing- I will tell you this, Margaret it's going to happen in the next week and hopefully you'll be the first to know.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Alright. Thank you very much, Senator Tester. We'll be right back with our panel.

SEN. TESTER: It was a pleasure talking to you Margaret, thank you very much.