Indy DC Download: NV Dems skeptical of SOTU olive branch, Trump opines on Heller's loss

February 9, 2019
In The News

The day after delivering his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump weighed in on why he believed former Sen. Dean Heller lost his re-election bid, and the Senate took up a public lands bill that would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

Trump met Wednesday with a handful of regional news outlets, including The Nevada Independent, in the Oval Office Wednesday. He said that he believes Heller lost last year because of his resistance to Trump’s presidential bid.

“What happened with Dean Heller is I tried for him, but my base did not believe him,” Trump said, adding that is why he did not tap him to replace Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. “They wouldn’t go for him because Dean Heller was really hostile in my race” to win the Republican nomination and the race against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

In his annual State of the Union address, Trump sought to strike a unifying note to encourage Democrats to work with Republicans on important issues, such as border security. But the overture fell flat with Nevada’s Democrats, who questioned his sincerity after he cited a murder in Reno to bolster his argument to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

“I was disappointed that he is choosing to politicize a horrible, personal tragedy,” said Sen. Jacky Rosen after the speech.

Among the president’s guests at the address were Debra Bissell, Heather Armstrong and Madison Armstrong, the daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter, respectively, of Gerald and Sharon David, who were murdered in a Reno home last month.

Cortez Masto said that the decision to invite the Reno family was typical of Trump, who has striven to make the case that illegal immigrants commit a disproportionate amount of crime. “That’s actually not true, but he uses it all the time to inflame his base, to incite fear, to gain support for a wall that I think, and I think many others, would be a waste of resources,” she said.

According to a study by the Cato Institute of crimes committed in 2015 in Texas, a Republican state with a large undocumented population, there were 1,797 criminal convictions of natives for every 100,000 natives, 899 criminal convictions of illegal immigrants for every 100,000 illegal immigrants.

Rep. Dina Titus called the speech “long on promises and short on substance.” While she said she is prepared to work with president, she did not believe is was realistic given the difficulty the parties have had in the first two years of Trump’s term. “[T]he past two years have taught me that Trump’s promises are likely just smoke and mirrors,” Titus said.

Rep. Steven Horsford cited the Trump administration’s policy of family separation as what gave him pause about Trump’s bipartisan olive branch.

“It’s difficult to believe the President is committed to unity when he refuses to unite hundreds of children separated from their families,” Horsford said. “I’m open to finding common ground with the President and my congressional Republican colleagues. Let’s start by agreeing that separating children from their parents, initiating shutdowns that hurt our federal workers and our economy, and creating divisions based on race and religion is no way to lead our country.”

The family separation issue started in April, when the White House announced that it would prosecute all people who entered the country illegally, including those seeking asylum, in what the administration called a “zero tolerance” policy. The move resulted in children being separated from their parents in order to comply with a 1997 court ruling known as the Flores settlement that bars the government from jailing migrant children for more than 20 days.

The policy was ended by an executive order in June. But a report released last month by the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services said that “thousands” more children were separated than initially reported by the government.

Cortez Masto helped introduce legislation that would prohibit the separation of migrant children from their parents or legal guardians by immigration officials at ports of entry or within 100 miles of the border. She also co-sponsored a measure that would prohibit U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from using information gathered in the process of resettling unaccompanied immigrant children to take civil enforcement actions against prospective sponsors and all individuals who reside with them.

Rep. Susie Lee said that she is hopeful that Congress can work in a bipartisan way on big issues, but she also noted that she remains at odds with the White House over pre-existing conditions. “I will continue to oppose any measures that would weaken protections for patients with pre-existing conditions or otherwise harm Southern Nevada families,” she said in a release.

Although Trump supports requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions, the Department of Justice has refused to defend the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which includes the pre-existing condition requirement, in a lawsuit in Texas. A judge recently ruled in favor of 20 Republican attorneys general who are challenging the ACA’s constitutionality in the Texas case after Congress removed the tax penalty associated with the law’s mandate to buy health insurance. The case, which threatens the protections for pre-existing conditions, is being appealed.

While the president decided not to choose Heller to head the Interior Department, he did announce last week that he plans to nominate acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

Cortez Masto—a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee—said she has “serious reservations” about Bernhardt and plans to carefully review his record.

“Acting Secretary Bernhardt’s history as a lobbyist with ties to fossil fuel companies raises serious questions about his commitment to honoring the mission of the Department of the Interior to conserve and manage the natural resources and cultural heritage of America, as well as protect and preserve Nevada’s public land,” she said.

Her comments came as the Senate is considering legislation that would permanently renew the authorization for the LWCF, which uses money from offshore oil and gas leasing for public-lands conservation.

The fund benefits western states such as Nevada, where more than 85 percent of the land is owned by the federal government. The bill also makes technical corrections affecting certain areas in Nevada, including a provision that provides a plot of federal land in Lincoln County to the county to be used as a landfill in order to discourage unauthorized dumping and trash disposal on environmentally-sensitive public land.