Sheehy and Tester Clash in First Senate Debate

On Sunday morning, Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Tester and his Republican challenger Tim Sheehy squared off in their first general election debate, set to be one of the most closely monitored races this year. The hour-long debate, hosted by the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation, took place at Fairmont Hot Springs in conjunction with the annual MBA convention.

Both candidates accused the other of politicizing border policy. Sheehy criticized President Joe Biden’s recent executive action to limit asylum requests as mere “pandering” before the election.

“This was an intentional border crisis, and now they’re trying to fool us to say we’re going to solve it before we get there,” he said. “And time and time again, Joe Biden and Senate Democrats, including Jon Tester, have had the opportunity to shut down that border, pass legislation to do so. Instead, we’ve had messaging bills that are nothing but political theater that have continued this terrible border crisis. It’s time to shut it down.”

Tester countered by blaming Republicans in Congress for not advancing a proposed border deal that included changes to asylum rules and additional funding for processing and security enhancements.

“That bill went nowhere,” he said. “Why? Because, quite frankly, people were told not to vote for it because they wanted to keep it a political issue in this country. It’s one of the reasons my opponent said he wouldn’t vote for the bill if he was in the Senate, before the bill was even released to read. Truth is, I was sent to Washington, D.C. to solve problems. There was a solution. Congress failed.”

The debate also touched on abortion, with Tester asserting that reproductive rights were at stake in the election, while Sheehy accused Democrats of supporting abortions “up to the moment of birth.”

“I’ll always protect the three rights for women – rape, incest, life of the mother – and at some point, the life of the baby does matter,” Sheehy stated. “At some point, when the baby’s viable, when it can feel pain, when it can come out of the womb and be a healthy child to grow and become our next generation, that baby has rights, too, and we have to have commonsense protections for the baby’s life as well.”

“For you to say that we’re killing babies at 40 weeks is total B.S.,” Tester retorted. “The bottom line is nobody’s talking about government taxpayer, payment for abortions. What we’re talking about is who makes the decision. Do you want a politician or a bureaucrat or a judge to make the decision? If you do, vote for him. If you want the woman to make the decision, vote for me.”

Despite Tester’s claims, the pro-abortion ballot measure CI-128 would make abortion the only medical procedure the state can not regulate. The measure would allow abortions at 40 weeks and force taxpayers to pay for abortions.

Tester emphasized his Montana roots, contrasting them with Sheehy’s background. Discussing housing prices, Tester pointed to Sheehy, who grew up in Minnesota and moved to Montana in 2014 after his military service.

“We also need to be realistic about what’s caused this problem,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of folks moving into this state, a lot of folks with thick wallets, a lot of folks that drive up the cost of housing, and quite frankly, it’s resulted in unaffordability in housing. And I would just tell you, on the housing front, Tim Sheehy is not the solution; he’s part of the problem.”

“Well, you heard it again: If you come here from out of state, you’re part of the problem,” Sheehy responded. “If you’re not from here, Jon Tester doesn’t think your voice matters apparently.”

Sheehy, a business owner in Gallatin County, defended his record of job creation and building affordable housing for his employees.

Sheehy argued that Montanans are dissatisfied with the current state of Washington, D.C., presenting himself as the candidate for change and linking Tester to the Biden administration’s policies.

“This agenda coming out of this White House has been empowered by the Democrat-controlled Senate – and primarily by a deciding vote that could have stopped so many of these bills, but 95% of the time supported them,” he said. “Jon Tester and I could both be good men who want the best for the future. We can also disagree on how that should be achieved. And right now,

Democratic control of the White House and the Senate has led our nation to the worst condition we’ve been in in 40 years.”

Tester acknowledged areas of disagreement with the administration but also highlighted his achievements over the past three years.

“An infrastructure bill that’s the biggest investment in infrastructure since the Eisenhower administration – something has been talked about my entire life and never been done, to make sure every road, bridge, people are wired with broadband, electrical transmission grid is up to 21st-century standards,” he said. “Things like the PACT Act, which deals with toxic exposure for our veterans, had never been passed. If you want to say I’m the deciding vote to beat that, I think would be a bad, bad decision.”

By: Montana Newsroom staff