HELENA — Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg blasted the policies of the Obama administration Monday, speaking to the Montana Legislature two days after jumping into the Senate race and drawing rebukes from Democrats who said it was an inappropriate venue for what they described as a divisive, partisan speech.
Rehberg, who announced Saturday that he's challenging U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a first-term Democrat, encouraged the GOP majority to keep pushing back against the federal health care law, illegal immigration and other issues.
'Reject insufferable arrogance' from D.C.
Rehberg said recent elections have shown states' rights are becoming more important and demonstrate that people "rejected the insufferable arrogance that they saw coming out of Washington, D.C."
"My job as your congressman is to defend the states' rights principle in Washington," Rehberg said. "That means focusing on the core responsibilities of the federal government. That means getting Washington off the backs of our people — as well as legislators like you in state capitals across America."
Republicans lawmakers stood several times to applaud; Democrats did not. Tester's office rebuked Rehberg for focusing on issues other than job creation.
"Jon's priority for Montana is creating and saving jobs," said spokesman Aaron Murphy. "In 20 minutes of laying out his priorities to the Legislature, Congressman Rehberg didn't focus on creating Montana jobs even once. That's a pretty clear contrast."
Williams critical of Rehberg's 'inflamatory rhetoric'
State Sen. Carol Williams, D-Missoula, said Rehberg's speech was full of "inflammatory rhetoric" that was fanning the flames of partisanship, while being "tone deaf" to job-creation and other issues the state Legislature has prioritized.
"This is entirely the wrong message for the Legislature. We need to work together or we can't get out of here in 90 days," said Williams. "This was stunningly partisan."
Rehberg did not mention Tester, but did attack U.S. Sen. Max Baucus for his role in the federal health care reform overhaul.
Critical of Baucus
"I understand he told this chamber a few weeks ago that 'Montanans, not Washington bureaucrats, know best how to manage wolves,'" Rehberg said of Baucus. "But I wonder when he's going to figure out that Montanans, not Washington bureaucrats, know best how to manage our own health care, too."
Baucus says the popularity of the health care law will increase as people began to learn more about the details and see how it works when in effect. He argues the positive aspects of the law, such as a ban on insurance companies cancelling coverage for pre-existing conditions, need to be kept and analysts show repeal will worsen the federal deficit.
Rehberg blasted federal "judicial activists" he wished were endangered themselves for siding with environmentalists on issues like wolf management, while praising the federal courts that have sided with conservatives suing over the health care law as unconstitutional.
Rehberg also blasted a move by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse emissions when Congress didn't, and the unpopular administrative move by federal land agencies to increase the protection status of some public land in the state.
"To borrow a phrase from Mr. Obama, 'Let me be clear,'" Rehberg said. "No additional national monuments should be created in our state without input from the people of Montana — and the approval of Congress."
Tester will address the state lawmakers later this week.