Missoulian: Tester meets Trump, seeks relief from VA hiring freeze

In a “wide-open discussion,” President Donald Trump pushed for his Supreme Court nominee and appeared open to relaxing the federal hiring freeze at the Veterans Administration, according to Montana Sen. Jon Tester.

Tester was one of six Democratic senators along with four Republicans to meet with Trump at the White House on Thursday afternoon. He described the meeting as productive and “not confrontational at all.”

The first issue Trump raised was the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Tester was the second senator to get a personal interview with Gorsuch, but he said the president didn’t put any particular emphasis on Tester’s future voting position.

“I think Judge Gorsuch deserves a fair shake,” Tester said in a telephone interview after the meeting. “I won’t support or oppose his nomination until I get more feedback from Montanans.”

On Wednesday, Trump attacked Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, on Twitter and in public for reporting that Gorsuch had criticized the president’s delegitimizing of another federal judge as “demoralizing” and “disheartening.” Tester said the Twitter feud didn’t come up in Thursday’s meeting, but he was concerned about it.

“It’s not helpful,” Tester said. “I know Dick Blumenthal, and he’s a good man. The president has this reaction when people challenge him. I wouldn’t run the business that way, but he runs the business that way.

“I don’t think those Twitter feeds or sidebar comments about people’s personalities are helpful,” Tester added. “In time, he’ll realize that.”

Each senator at the meeting had an opportunity to raise issues to Trump. Tester said his topics included reforming the campaign finance system, banning all members of Congress and certain executive officials from lobbying the government for five years after leaving office, and lifting a communications ban that has limited the ability of Montana senior citizens to get information from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“He seemed surprised when I brought that up,” Tester said of the communications ban, adding that Trump committed to looking into the problem promptly.

Tester told Trump the president’s civilian federal hiring freeze was hurting military veterans’ ability to get care and benefits from the Veterans Administration, and asked for more exemptions to get those personnel hired.

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