Tester confronts Austin over ‘unacceptable’ border crisis in sharp exchange

Tester confronts Austin over ‘unacceptable’ border crisis in sharp exchange

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, confronted Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin over the migrant crisis at the southern border during a sharp exchange on Capitol Hill.

Tester, who is one of the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents, let Austin know in blunt terms that he’s fed up with the Biden administration’s failure to secure the border, though he also acknowledged Congress’s failure to pass border security reforms is also a problem.

“Look, I’ve repeatedly called upon [Homeland Security] Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas and President Biden and Congress to step up and fix what’s going on at the southern border. It’s not sustainable at all, and it’s unacceptable,” he told Austin sternly during a hearing Wednesday.

Tester noted the Biden administration has had to rely on the Department of Defense to keep the border secure, diverting billions of dollars a year away from regular military priorities.

“I don’t see any funding for [Department of Defense] personnel for those operations. So, Mr. Secretary, a couple things. Number one, how many troops are currently serving on the southern border?” Tester demanded.

Austin responded that the Pentagon has had to help shore up border security officers for 19 of the past 23 years at a cost of $4 billion but didn’t provide a precise time frame for the cost.

Tester then pressed Austin on whether this is a good use of military resources.

“Mr. Secretary, do you agree with my perspective that the Administration needs to do more secure the border, and we shouldn’t have to depend upon the military to do that?” he asked.

Austin admitted he agreed but quickly added, “but if we’re required to assist, then we will continue to do so.”

He added, “the president agrees more should be done,” and pointed out that Biden supported the bipartisan Senate border security deal that would have allocated $20 billion toward border security.

Tester acknowledged, “Congress dropped the ball on that because that would have changed things dramatically.”

Tester’s stern exchange with Austin follows a confrontation he had with Mayorkas last month over the administration’s failure to better control the border.

“All you have to see is what’s gone on at the southern border, and you know that we’re in a situation that needs immediate repair, immediate fixing, immediate overhaul,” Tester said during a tense moment of a hearing with Mayorkas.

“The fact is the border needs to be fixed, and we need to step up as Congress, the administration needs to step up, you need to step up,” Tester said, his voice rising in volume.

Tester announced Thursday that he officially co-sponsored the Laken Riley Act, which would require federal officials to apprehend and detain illegal immigrants who commit certain crimes until they can be removed from the United States.

“After hearing from law enforcement officers across Montana, I’m backing the Laken Riley Act to make sure that individuals who enter our country and commit a crime are held accountable so that no Montana family has to worry about the safety of their loved ones,” Tester said in a statement.

Tester became the first Democrat to co-sponsor the bill, which has strong Republican support and which the House passed with 251 votes in March.

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