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S.D. delegates on the stump for Trump

If the presidential election were decided by South Dakota's congressional delegation, Donald Trump would be the 45th president of the United States. U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune have each endorsed Trump's candid...

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign rally at Blair County Convention Center in Altoona, Pennsylvania August 12, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign rally at Blair County Convention Center in Altoona, Pennsylvania August 12, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

If the presidential election were decided by South Dakota's congressional delegation, Donald Trump would be the 45th president of the United States.

U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem and U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune have each endorsed Trump's candidacy for president, but how do they align with some of the policy stances the Republican nominee has touted throughout his tumultuous campaign?

With the South Dakota delegation in Mitchell for the annual agriculture showcase called Dakotafest, the trio of Republicans took time to share their perspectives on some of Trump's policy positions.

Building a border wall

An early campaign promise made by Trump was the construction of a large wall on the United States' southern border with Mexico, a wall which Trump said he would force Mexico to fund. And Trump's wall has at least one supporter in Thune.

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"I actually offered the amendment in the Senate in the last immigration debate to build a wall," Thune said Wednesday. "I got 38 votes for it, so I'm in favor of it."

Thune was well ahead of Trump in suggesting the border fence, with his bill to require 350 miles of new fencing along the southern border reaching a Senate vote in 2013. The amendment needed 60 votes to pass, but Thune was joined by only 38 of his peers in the 39-54 vote.

While Thune said border fences have worked in other places around the world, he acknowledged a border fence would need to be supported by additional border security.

Fellow Republican Sen. Rounds agreed there is a need to strengthen border security, but he isn't certain a wall is the right approach.

"I think what you can do is you have to strengthen your border, but it doesn't necessarily come in the shape of a wall," Rounds said Wednesday. "There's more modern ways of doing it, and you're not going to put a wall down the middle of the Rio Grande."

Rounds said the country should look at who is already in the United States illegally, and he said there must be some sort of penalty established for violating the law other than a mass deportation.

Noem agreed with Rounds, calling immigration a national security issue that needs to be reformed.

Immigration ban

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Another contentious point made throughout Trump's campaign is a proposed ban on Muslim immigrants to the United States, which he later expanded to a blanket ban on immigrants from nations "compromised by terrorism."

If Trump is elected and attempts to impose any sort of religious test upon entry into the United States, he likely won't be able to count on Noem's support.

"No, I certainly don't support that," Noem said following the Dakotafest congressional forum. "I do think that we have to make sure that we're thoroughly using our programs to vet individuals coming into this country."

The two Republican Senators shared similar opinions of Trump's proposed ban on Muslim immigrants.

"I don't think there should be any religious test," Rounds said. "I do think you can look at the individual countries that they're coming from in which the unrest is there, but I don't think we should be asking proposed terrorists to tell us honestly what their religious faith is."

Rounds, who visited Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Afghanistan to discuss national security issues last year, said a better plan to addressing immigration from the Middle East would be to use existing methods to vet immigrants from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Libya.

Thune offered a response akin to Rounds.

"We don't have religious tests in this country, I think the test needs to be a security test," Thune said. "And if they identify people from certain regions of the world where terrorist groups are active and operating and exporting terrorism, taking a look at who we bring into this country from those parts of the world, I think it makes sense, and I think most people would agree with that."

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War on ISIS

In a speech earlier this week, Trump called for an "extreme" and "vicious" campaign against the militant group that calls itself ISIS. And in this case, Trump's hawkish approach to attacking ISIS earned unanimous support from the South Dakota delegation.

Rounds said increasing the United States military presence in the Middle East will be determined by whether or not the country feels ISIS is the real enemy and what the military feels is the best course of action to eliminate ISIS as a threat. Rounds believes the military has already provided the Senate with an answer.

"I think we know what it is, and that is go in and kick them from one end to the other and be done with it before you have more civilians losing their lives throughout that entire region, and before they kill more Americans here in the United States," Rounds said.

Noem stood with Rounds and Trump, saying the United States should "destroy" ISIS.

Thune said an attack on ISIS will require a multi-faceted effort waged through a collaboration between intelligence, military and law enforcement agencies.

"I don't think we want to mess around, these guys mean serious business," Thune said. "They've already successfully carried out attacks in Europe and here in the United States, and I think we're going to see more of that if we aren't pushing back and trying to destroy them at the source."

Cutting taxes

As a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Noem has worked to simplify the U.S. tax code, and a recent plan outlined by Trump borrows the centerpiece of the Ways and Means Committee's proposal.

Trump has pitched a plan to cut the number of income tax brackets from seven to three, establishing a maximum income tax rate of 33 percent. The plan would drop the maximum income tax rate by 6.6 percent, just like the plan Noem helped craft on the Ways and Means Committee.

Naturally, Noem sees a simplified tax code like the one proposed by Trump and the Ways and Means Committee as an advantage to American taxpayers.

"It really simplifies the code to the point where a lot of Americans could pay their taxes on a postcard," Noem said.

Thune said the House Republicans' plan has a lot of good features, and tax reform could lead to the return of some of the $2 trillion in American money currently stored overseas due to what Thune perceives as the country's high tax rates.

"I do think we have to get the rates down or we're not going to be competitive in the global marketplace," Thune said.

Rounds said he is in favor of tax reform, but he's not set on Trump's plan.

"We have to do tax reform," Rounds said. "I'm not stuck on a particular system, but I think the average should follow what they call the Laffer Curve, which was Arthur Laffer's proposal that Ronald Reagan used."

The Laffer Curve suggests rising taxes generates added revenue, but if tax rates are raised too high, it suggests people may limit their workload, which would reduce overall governmental revenue. With that in mind, Rounds prefers a plan closer to a flat tax than a progressive system.

The three also supported Trump's plan to repeal the estate tax, known by detractors as the "death tax."

Currently, the estate tax affects a small amount of Americans each year who are passing their assets down to their heirs. Under the existing rules, the first $5.45 million of an estate is exempt from taxation when passed down, or the first $10.9 million from a married couple. The assets greater than those levels are typically taxed at 40 percent.

Thune, who reintroduced a bill to repeal the estate tax in 2015, still stands by the plan.

"What my experience has been is that the people who have a lot of assets and money figure out a way around it because they have the lawyers and accountants to get around it," Thune said. "The people that it hits are a lot of hard-working small business people, people that are involved in production agriculture."

Rounds said he would be fine with the estate tax's repeal, but he would prefer to take a look at the amount of assets protected under the estate tax.

The repeal of the estate tax was also included in the plan outlined by the Ways and Means Committee, and Noem maintained her opposition to the tax.

"Amen, I'm on board," Noem said when asked if she supports the repeal of the estate tax.

Clinton or Trump?

For both Noem and Thune, the support of Trump hinged on disagreements with the Democratic candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Thune called a vote for Clinton is a vote for a third term of President Barack Obama's policies, like the Affordable Care Act. And Noem simply can't trust Clinton.

"I can't vote for Hillary Clinton," Noem said. "I think (Trump) says things that concerns, what she does greatly concerns me. Her track record of corruption and mismanagement and not handling classified information and not being trustworthy, I could never vote for her."

Thune said it's three major issues that separate the two major party candidates, economic security, national security and the courts. Throughout the campaign, Thune has reiterated his concern that a Clinton administration could determine as many as three United States Supreme Court justices.

But Thune also sees the 2016 election as an opportunity to shift the course of the country.

"From a security standpoint, I think the world is more chaotic than it was when the president took office, and honestly, the country is more polarized politically than it was when he took office," Thune said. "There's a real opportunity to create a new direction for this country, and the question is whether or not Donald Trump can take advantage of it."

For Rounds, he believes the Republican Party platform would put the country in a better position for the future.

"I think, number one, I think we have a better opportunity when it comes to actually taking care of the fiscal mess in our country," Rounds said. "And second of all, I think when it comes to what it's going to take to fix the regulatory environment, which is slowing down economic growth, I think Republicans have a better understanding."

South Dakota voters have made their voice known, with Trump receiving 44,866 votes in the June 7 primary compared to Clinton's 27,046. Voters will next head to the polls on Nov. 8 to cast their ballot for the U.S. presidential election.

South Dakota voters will also have the opportunity to vote in both a U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives race. Thune will square off with Yankton Democrat Jay Williams, while Noem attempts to fight off Democratic challenger State Rep. Paula Hawks, of Hartford.

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