Tester beefs with Biden

Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester is picking a public fight with President Joe Biden over beef as he battles for reelection in his deep red state.

The Senate is poised to vote Thursday afternoon on Tester’s measure to override the Biden administration’s recent decision to lift a ban on beef imports from Paraguay. Two other vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection this fall, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jacky Rosen of Nevada, are co-sponsoring the proposal, which is headed by Tester and Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

They argue it will hurt cattle ranchers and consumers in their states.

But the vote also gives the trio of Democrats a clear policy break with Biden — who is unpopular in their states — on a low-stakes, populist issue. Tester’s office is highlighting the fact that it will mark the first time a Senate Democrat has directly challenged Biden in such a way.

Before the vote, the Montana Democrat plans to argue on the Senate floor that Biden and his administration “butchered” the decision, according to a spokesperson. The measure is slated to get a floor vote around 2:45 p.m. and is expected to clear the 50-vote threshold required to pass.

Details: Biden’s Agriculture Department last year allowed the small South American nation of Paraguay to import beef into the U.S. after a decadeslong ban, after Paraguay faced economic blowback for recognizing Taiwan and lost market access in Russia after denouncing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The administration said access to the U.S. market is critical to Paraguay to recover exports lost to Russia and withstand pressure from China to drop its recognition of Taiwan. When USDA issued a final rule allowing beef imports from Paraguay, the department said a risk analysis concluded beef could safely be imported from the country under certain conditions.

“We are confident that we have a system that will ensure protection,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told lawmakers during a House Agriculture Committee hearing last month.

Tester has argued against that decision, noting that Paraguay has a recent history of foot-and-mouth disease that could infect the U.S. cattle herd.

“It’s bad policy,” Tester said in a brief hallway interview. Paraguay has “foot-and-mouth disease, and foot-and-mouth disease goes through cattle like a hot knife through butter.”

Brown said Wednesday he has heard from Ohio voters who are concerned about the move.

“I think that Tester’s right, so that’s why I’m voting for it,” he said in a brief interview.

Past pushes: Tester made a push in 2021 to ban Brazilian beef imports, which the Biden administration rejected. Paraguay, a much smaller player in the world beef market than Brazil, is an easier target.

The White House this week issued a statement opposing Tester’s measure, but has not threatened a presidential veto. It could be one of Tester and Brown’s few legislative wins on agriculture policy before November, given the dim prospects for a new farm bill reauthorization, which has been stalled by deep partisan divisions.

“I think the people that will vote against my [measure] are doing it because they want to have Paraguay as our friend in South America, and I’m gonna tell you I think that’s important,” Tester said in the interview. “I just think the risk is too high for our beef industry and our food security.”