Here's what happened during Sen. Tester's luncheon with President Trump last week


Last week, Sen. Jon Tester met with President Donald Trump for a luncheon alongside five other Senate Democrats and four Republicans. They discussed a lot, from federal regulations to Trump's nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a subsequent press call, Tester disclosed that he’d also pressed the president to exempt more Veterans Affairs employees from the federal hiring freeze to alleviate backlogs, and that he’d hand-delivered a letter reiterating his desire to see campaign finance reform measures enacted. Tester referred to the luncheon as a “productive meeting.”
  • Photo by Chad Harder

“I told the president that I’ll give him room to succeed and I will work with him when I can,” Tester told Montana media outlets. “But I also told him that I would hold him accountable if he pushes policies that are bad for Montana or bad for this country.”

That was Thursday. As Friday bled into the weekend, however, reports from Politico and CNN began to paint a slightly different picture of the luncheon. Those stories cited unnamed sources who claimed that Trump had repeated his long-debunked claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election, generating what Politico’s source called “an uncomfortable silence.”

The stories also stated that Trump brought up an episode from earlier in the week when Sen. Elizabeth Warren, while objecting to the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general, was gaveled down (by Montana’s own Sen. Steve Daines). CNN said Trump “taunted” Democrats at the luncheon by referring to Warren several times as “Pocahontas,” quoting a source describing the president’s resurrection of the pejorative as “equal parts bizarre and completely awkward.” On Sunday, Sen. Al Franken, who was not in the meeting, told Politico that if he had been, he would have informed the president that the nickname is “racist.”

The Indy followed up with Tester’s office about these revelations this week. In an email late Tuesday, Feb. 14, Tester spokesman Luke Jackson confirmed on the senator’s behalf that Trump did indeed make the reported remarks. He also confirmed that no one at the luncheon responded to or confronted the president about them. Asked why the remarks weren’t disclosed as part of last week’s press call, Jackson responded:

These were not new statements from Mr. Trump. The President has routinely called Sen. Warren this derogatory name as far back as May of last year. Also, Mr. Trump has made unfounded claims of voter fraud since before the election and continues to offer no evidence to back them up. Jon is deeply concerned that the President has a tendency to repeat offensive rhetoric and untrue statements.

On that press call, amid talk about rural broadband and concerns that Trump’s federal communications ban is negatively impacting Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries in Montana, Tester did acknowledge reservations about how the president reacts when challenged. Asked during the call if Trump’s Twitter habits had come up during the luncheon, Tester replied they hadn’t, adding, “I don’t think those Twitter feeds, whatever you call them, or sidebar comments about people’s personalities are particularly helpful. But I think in time he’ll realize that.”

As for a direct response to Trump’s comments about Warren and voter fraud, Jackson told the Indy, “Jon thinks what President Trump called Senator Warren is offensive. Jon takes the integrity of our elections very seriously.”


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