Tester calls on Congress to find bipartisan solution to ‘unacceptable’ border crisis

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) on Monday called on President Joe Biden and Congress to “quit using the border as a political talking point” and come together to reach a bipartisan solution. 

Tester, whose 2024 race will likely decide control of the U.S. Senate, made the comments in an op-ed published Monday in the Helena Independent Record. The Montana Democrat urged a divided Congress and White House to seek common ground on the border crisis, which he says he told the president is “unacceptable.”

“The stories of those impacted Montana families, local governments’ budgets that are stretched thin, and our national security are front of mind for me when I’ve told President Biden and Homeland Security Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas that what’s happening on our southern border is unacceptable,” Tester wrote. 

“That is why I urged Senate leaders from both parties to prioritize a solution to the border crisis, one that I believe we should have stayed in Washington and worked over the holidays to solve,” he continued. “The lack of urgency from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address this crisis is frankly disturbing.”

A bipartisan working group of senators has been negotiating since last November on a border security deal, which would be added to a defense spending bill that includes aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. Negotiators on both sides have acknowledged that the border measure is critical to passing the legislation through both chambers.

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) have been leading the negotiations, which have centered largely on changes to federal asylum policy and how the Biden administration uses the humanitarian parole authority. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) has also been heavily involved in the talks.

There have also been reports that the White House has offered to establish a new border expulsion law and increase mandatory detention rates as part of the negotiations, though no one from the Senate working group or the Biden administration has confirmed as much publicly. Negotiations now largely center on disputes over parole system reforms, which remains the biggest sticking point. 

Negotiators said on Monday they had written most of the legislative text and that the bill was now in the hands of the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

The legislation is expected to eventually pass the Senate with bipartisan support if negotiators can reach an agreement. Even if Republicans were to secure concessions from Democrats in the Senate talks, the bill would face considerable opposition from House GOP lawmakers who oppose Ukraine aid.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has publicly insisted that the border provision in Biden’s defense legislation be the Senate’s version of H.R. 2, House Republicans’ signature border bill. Senate GOP negotiators, however, have pushed back on the notion that they are demanding Democrats agree to H.R. 2.

Johnson has also told Senate Republicans that it would be difficult to pass the upper chamber’s bipartisan bill even with a substantial border deal, which negotiators have thus far failed to reach.

Johnson has begun to face threats to his speakership over the supplemental spending request, with lawmakers saying they’d file a motion to vacate and paralyze the House if he were to pass Ukraine aid.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) asks questions during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) asks questions during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Tester became the Democratic Party’s most vulnerable Senate incumbent following Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) announcement last month that he wouldn’t seek a second term. Without Manchin in the race, the party’s task of keeping its 51-49 majority comes down to Tester and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Republicans only have 10 incumbents up for reelection this cycle, while Democrats have 23.

Manchin, Tester, and Brown represent states former President Donald Trump won in 2016 and 2020 by strong margins. If either Tester or Brown lose without Democrats picking up long-shot seats elsewhere on the map, Republicans will retake control of the upper chamber.

Tester opting to seek a fourth term in and of itself was a major win for Democrats, giving the party a fighting chance in a state Trump carried by over 16 points in 2020. The formidable incumbent has not deterred Senate GOP leadership from pouring significant resources into the contest.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, led by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), has thrown its support behind former Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy, a wealthy entrepreneur who is expected to partially self-fund his bid.


Sheehy also has the support of other home state officials, including Gov. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) and Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT). But the possible entrance of another Montana lawmaker, Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT), into the race threatens to create a contentious primary that could weaken the winner going into the general election.

The party establishment has said Rosendale’s 2018 loss to Tester proves he cannot win statewide, though that has not deterred the House lawmaker from hiring staff and fundraising. Tester is unlikely to say if he’d prefer to face Sheehy or Rosendale, whom he demonized as “Maryland Matt,” a real estate developer from the Old Line State who falsely claimed to be a rancher during their 2018 contest.