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U.S. Rep. Rosendale talks fentanyl, Ukraine and the U.S. border


We’re taking some time to hear from the state’s congressional delegation. We recently aired conversations with Montana’s U.S. Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester. Today, we’re catching up with Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale.

Rosendale represents Montana’s eastern district and serves on the U.S. House committees on Veterans Affairs and Natural Resources. He’s also a member of the Freedom and Border Security caucuses.

The second-term representative has voted against sending military aid to Ukraine and is a possible contender in the state’s 2024 U.S. Senate race.

Rosendale joined a small band of conservative lawmakers in January who initially resisted electing Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House.

The congressman shared his views of that debate with MTPR’s Edward O’Brien.

Matt Rosendale: Most of that battle was about the rules package. Unfortunately, over the last 15 to 18 years, what we had seen was a consolidation of power from John Boehner and Paul Ryan. And then more severely under Nancy Pelosi, this consolidation of power into the speaker's hands and into a few select people that served on what they call the Rules Committee that left the rest of Congress, really, the only option is to vote up or down on a lot of legislation. And so that rules package that we proposed was to require single subject legislation, which is very similar to what you have at the state Legislature in Helena. It was a require 72 hours notice to be able to review legislation before it was brought up for a vote to allow all members of Congress to propose amendments from the floor. Those provisions now are giving us the ability to represent our constituents more equally.

Edward O'Brien: The speaker has reportedly granted Tucker Carlson of Fox News access to thousands of hours of security tapes from the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Democrats warn that the release of these videos presents significant security risks at the Capitol. What say you?

I don't know how in the world that could present significant security risk. I tell you the questions that have never been answered that I was waiting to hear. When was it that the recommendations were made to increase the security around the Capitol to make sure that we didn't have problems there?

Congressman, you have introduced a bill to prohibit further aid to Ukraine until the U.S. border wall is completed. I definitely want to get your thoughts on Ukraine in just a second. But first, the border. Do you think a border wall is the best solution here?

The United States is required by law to maintain operational control of the southern border. There are hundreds of thousands of individuals that are crossing it. There are thousands of pounds of illegal drugs that are crossing. The cartels are running our southern border.

A review of fentanyl smuggling in the U.S. by the Cato Institute found in 2021, over 80% of fentanyl traffickers were U.S. citizens and 90% of seizures took place at legal points of entry. So if you accept those findings, how then does the U.S. handle it?

That's 90% of the confiscations that they executed. What about all of the fentanyl that is streaming across the border that they did not get? It's going across places where they didn't catch them? I think that we have to use every security measure available to us. I think the Remain in Mexico policy President Trump had instituted, and that I have introduced legislation to implement and put into statute, would both go a long ways to helping us secure that border.

We need the wall. We need the light and sensing devices that go along with that. We need the ability to retain people in Mexico that are claiming asylum instead of releasing them into the United States for them basically never to appear for their hearing again. We saw fit to send $100 billion to Ukraine to help them secure their border. I would certainly hope that we could find $10 billion to secure our own.

The Biden administration has announced its new plan to restrict which migrants can apply for asylum at the border. What's your take? Does that satisfy any of your concerns?

I think it's a step, so I will commend the administration for taking that small step in the right direction. But I will not be giving out any awards this week as we still have hundreds of thousands of people streaming across the border illegally each month.

The U.S. Congressman Rosendale has spent tens of billions of dollars in defense of Ukraine. President Biden recently announced another 400 million in additional assistance to those who say Ukraine's defense against Russia simultaneously supports American national security interests. You say what?

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is wrong. It was unprovoked. And I have supported every single measure to use sanctions against Russia to keep them from going forward. But I do not think that we should be sending billions of dollars to Ukraine. I've just signed on to another piece of legislation to get an accurate accounting of where all that money went to so that we can say we should not be doing that, especially at a time when we're losing about 100,000 citizens every year to drug overdoses, most of which is coming from fentanyl.

On the domestic front, Medicare is projected to experience a funding shortfall within six years. Social Security's forecast to follow suit shortly after. I believe there are some Democrats who say these accounts could at least be partially shored up by hiking taxes on the wealthiest among us. Do you think that's a good idea?

I think that's a hoax. You're not going to shore those up by raising taxes on the wealthiest in the country. But I will tell you this. As Republicans in Congress look at the debt ceiling and we look at the 12 appropriation bills and the budget, we are going to be looking for places for reductions. But under no circumstances will the benefits of Social Security or Medicare be reduced.

Places for reductions. Is it still a little early to ask what your priorities would be?

We just put a request for information to all the agencies so we can look at all the accounts and find out how many duplicative services that are being offered through different programs and to see where additional funding has been left that was not utilized because of COVID spending. So we are going through and analyzing all of that information right now.

You were just elected to your second term. You have a long road ahead of you. What would you like to get accomplished over the next two years?

So, I'm really pleased that I was placed back on my same committees, back on Natural Resources and I'm back on Veterans Affairs. I'm going to be the chairman of the Technology Modernization Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, it's dealing with the electronic health records for the Veterans Administration. Really, my focus is going to be to make sure that we take the dollars the Veterans Administration is receiving and direct them to delivering effective health care for our veterans.

On the Natural Resource Committee, we proposed as Democrats controlled the committee last session, the Republicans had introduced eight different bills to increase our domestic energy. We saw the domestic energy production dropped, the crude oil dropped by nearly 2 million barrels a day, Ed. And so we've introduced several pieces of legislation to bring that production back up again.

Another piece of legislation that I really think is critically important to move forward, and that's the bipartisan ban on congressional stock ownership. There is no way anyone else could sit in a room and hear the information that members of Congress do without it being classified as insider trading.

When it comes to veterans issues, it sounds, at least on paper, you and Senator Tester are on the same page. Have you given any thought to a possible rematch against Senator Tester?

Here's what I will tell you. Jon Tester does not represent the people of Montana. The people of Montana do deserve someone who represents them. And I think that they will make that decision over the next 12 months, 18 months to decide who they want to be up here in Washington representing them

It sounds like you haven't ruled it out of the question. It was a close match back in '18. Three and a half points or so. Montana's a darker shade of red than it was then. It's got to be tempting.

I don't have anything else to add to that, Ed.

Fair enough. I had to give it a shot. Congressman Matt Rosendale, we really appreciate your valuable time.

Thank you so much, Ed.

Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke’s office did not respond to MTPR’s interview requests.

Copyright 2023 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Edward F. O'Brien