National Press Club

Montana governor seeks unity among rival Democrats on gun legislation, health care

August 8, 2019 | By Louise Walsh |

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democratic presidential candidate, spoke at an Aug. 7 National Press Club Headliners event.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democratic presidential candidate, spoke at an Aug. 7 National Press Club Headliners event.

Photo/Image: Alan Kotok

As the nation reeled from mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock called on his Democratic rivals to unite around issues Americans truly care about such as sensible gun legislation and health care.

“No real hunter needs a 30-round clip, a bump stock. No real hunter needs a weapon of war, or wants a terrorist or domestic abuser…to get his hands on a weapon,” said the Democratic presidential hopeful, who calls himself a hunter and gun-owner.

He spoke at a National Press Club Headliners event Wednesday.

The only Democrat reelected in a state President Trump won, Bullock touted his winning record with a Republican-controlled legislature. He explained why that record makes him the best candidate to defeat President Trump in 2020.

“I took on the big banks and used the money we recovered to keep people in their homes,” he said. Laws enacted on his watch saved rural hospitals, cracked down on drug costs and lowered health insurance, ended “dark and foreign money” in Montana elections, reauthorized and expanded Medicaid and reformed student loans. Those are among his favorite examples of how citizens saw their lives improved, he said.

Bullock bristled at being called a moderate when former Club President Thomas Burr introduced him, but liked being called an incrementalist. “For 54 years we’ve added to Medicare,” he said, noting that Medicare didn’t cover hospice care until 1982, and prescription drugs weren’t added until 2003. As for the moderate label, “Making sure everyone has coverage isn’t moderate,” he said, nor is kicking all “dark money and foreign money” out of Montana elections.

“The NRA and other extremist groups have a stranglehold on our politics, with their fists full of dollars” he said. He recalled an earlier time when the NRA was “a hunting, gun safety and shooting organization.” Since 9/11, more Americans have been killed by domestic terrorism, he noted, than by foreign terrorism, according to the FBI. Bullock favors universal background checks, red flag laws, banning bump stocks, and limiting assault weapons among other gun restrictions. He’s able to talk with gun-owners because “I know their hearts.” Gun owners, he added, “respect the weapon and don’t want it to get in the wrong hands.”

Pointing out Trump’s “hateful rhetoric about communities,” Bullock never imagined he’d say this about an American president: “[Trump] gives aid and comfort to the enemies of democracy abroad and incites the enemies of decency at home.”

“That’s why I’m here today,” he said: “I want to see Donald Trump’s presidency end.” He warned his fellow Democrats: “We cannot defeat Donald Trump and the politics of personal destruction if we practice the politics of self-destruction.”

That’s one reason he doesn’t understand why, when Republicans tried and failed 70 times to repeal and replace Obamacare, Democrats are trying the same thing: “It makes no sense to go back to square one. If you abolish private health care, you will lose.”

Just like a house with good bones and a solid foundation, but with leaks in its roof and pipes, the Affordable Care Act needs fixing: “My opponents look at our healthcare system and see a tear-down, I see an add-on. We don’t need a wrecking ball for Obamacare, just a repair job.” Trump will be reelected, he said, if Democrats try to take away their private insurance.

Bullock favors a public option for uninsured Americans, opposes health care for undocumented workers as does the Affordable Care Act, and he wants DACA recipients protected. Unlike some Democrats running for president, he opposes decriminalizing unlawful entry into the United States. If Democrats pursue it, they’re “walking into a trap Trump has set for them.” For 90 years, he said, we enforced borders without putting children into cages. Instead, he calls for comprehensive immigration reform.

On the ballot in 2020, he said, is not only the U.S. presidency and a new Congress, but the American Dream. That dream isn’t dead, but it is on life support, Bullock told his audience. He’s running to fix it. Summoning words from Martin Luther King, he said the American Dream isn’t a myth, “it’s a promissory note.” Or as former president Barack Obama once described it, he said, “It’s a relay race.”