Indy DC Download: The House took its first impeachment-related vote, while the Senate advanced a more than $330 billion spending package

Democrats and Republicans stuck to their partisan corners last week as the House approved a resolution laying out the public process of the impeachment inquiry. 

The party-line vote, the first House floor action in connection with the Democrats’ impeachment investigation, contrasted with the Senate, where most lawmakers came together to approve a more than $330 billion appropriations package, which includes funding for the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, an agency that oversees federal lands around the nation. Nearly 80 percent of Nevada is federal land.

The House vote comes ahead of a week-long recess for the lower chamber. The Senate is in session next week. 

Impeachment process

Thursday’s passage, on a 232 to 196 vote, of the impeachment-inquiry resolution allowed Republicans to continue their criticism of the process, which has taken place behind closed doors and with only three committees participating: the Intelligence Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Oversight and Reform Committee.

That was Rep. Mark Amodei’s response shortly before voting against the resolution. Amodei is the delegation’s only Republican member.

He said that the resolution sets up a process that is a departure from the impeachment process used for President Bill Clinton and President Richard Nixon. Republicans argue that the resolution gives Democrats too much power over the proceedings. For example, it allows the minority to issue subpoenas for witnesses and documents, but only with the consent of Democrats, who took control of the House after the 2018 midterm elections.

“If you want to ignore what the history is, you’re free to do that if you’ve got the votes,” Amodei said. 

The resolution authorizes the public portion of the investigation, including the release of transcripts of witness testimony and allows for up to 45 minutes per side for the questioning of witnesses by committee staff counsel. The measure also allows the president’s legal team to cross-examine witnesses before the Judiciary Committee, which is directed to review the evidence and to write articles of impeachment, if necessary.

The impeachment investigation is focused on whether President Donald Trump pressured Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election against a political rival (Joe Biden), his withholding of military aid (and a White House meeting) and possible efforts to cover up his actions.

All of Nevada’s House Democrats backed the resolution. 

“Donald Trump endangered our national security and undermined our elections by pressuring a foreign country to interfere in the 2020 election,” said Rep. Dina Titus after the vote. “Today I voted to let the American people hear for themselves the extent of President Trump’s abuse of power.”

Turkey 

Along with voting on the impeachment inquiry rules, the House voted to impose sanctions on Turkey and formally recognized the Armenian genocide. The measures passed 403 to 16 and 405 to 11, respectively.

All members of the delegation voted for those pieces of legislation. The votes came after Trump recently withdrew U.S. forces from Northern Syria, which allowed Turkey to invade the region and put the Kurdish people, historical enemies of Turkey, in harm’s way. The Kurds are U.S. allies and helped fight the Islamic terrorist group ISIS. 

“I think we owed some more loyalty to those folks who provided some pretty key assistance to us at some important time,” Amodei said of the Kurds.

The votes also came after Trump, following criticism for the Syria withdraw, including from Republicans, announced last week that he was lifting sanctions on Turkey in exchange for an extended cease-fire in Syria. He also said he would be deploying troops to secure oil fields in Eastern Syria rather than the full withdrawal he initially ordered. 

The sanctions bill targets Turkish leaders involved in the decision to invade Syria, block the sale of arms to Turkey that could be used in the fight and require a report on the consequences of the Turkish offensive in Syria.

Since 1984—when the House last passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, which occurred between 1915 and 1923 and was perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire—the chamber has failed to duplicate the effort in part out of a desire not to upset Turkey, a NATO ally. But both measures passed the House easily as lawmakers look to register their displeasure over the Syrian invasion.

“To fight back against hate and discrimination, we must learn from, not erase, our history,” Rep. Susie Lee said. “I’m proud to stand with every Armenian American in formally recognizing the Armenian genocide in Congress.”

Lands bills

The House also took up three public lands bills, all which were all opposed by Amodei, who said he did not think they were necessary, as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) already requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of proposed actions prior to making decisions on development of federal lands — such as permitting for oil and gas exploration.

“NEPA provides very strongly if the answer should be no, then it’s no,” Amodei said. “I just don’t know why there is insecurity with that.” 

One bill, which passed 245 to 174, would prevent oil and gas exploration within the Chaco Canyon National Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. The measure would create a 10-mile buffer zone around the park.

A second measure would ban mining on one million acres of land adjacent to the Grand Canyon National Park. That legislation passed 236 to 185.

“Our public lands are precious, none more so than the Grand Canyon,” Lee said of the bill. “We need to protect them at all costs. Proud to help pass this bill in the House yesterday.”

A third bill, which was approved 227 to 182, would designate roughly 200,000 acres of federal land in Colorado for wilderness, recreation, historic preservation, or conservation purposes. 

All of Nevada’s House Democrats supported the bills.

Appropriations

In the Senate, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen were among the 84 senators who voted for a $330 billion spending package that included $13.7 billion for the Interior Department, which is $1.1 billion more than the White House requested in its fiscal 2020 budget blueprint

The measure would also provide $1.4 billion for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an increase of $53 million above the fiscal 2019 enacted level. The BLM manages public lands and oversees energy development, livestock grazing, recreation and timber harvesting. 

The spending package, which is made up of four of the 12 annual appropriations bills, included $70.833 billion for the Departments of Commerce and Justice, as well as NASA and the National Science Foundation. 

The Department of Agriculture, rural development and conservation programs would receive $151.7 billion, including $23.1 billion in discretionary funding. The Department of Transportation, housing assistance and community development programs would receive $74.3 billion. 

The Senate measure still has to be reconciled with the House version passed earlier this year. With the Senate still yet to approve the eight remaining annual spending bills, Congress is expected to have to pass another stopgap spending measure, also known as a continuing resolution (CR), to provide enough time to finish the appropriations process. The current stopgap ends Nov. 21.

Amodei, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said he’s worried that Congress, as it has done in recent years, could end up shutting down the government with Republicans and Democrats at loggerheads over providing money to build a wall on the southern border, a campaign promise Trump is trying to keep.

“I’m concerned,” Amodei said, adding that if Congress can get close to finishing its work by the end of the year, it could avoid a shutdown or an extended CR, both of which are chaotic for government programs and their employees.

The difficulty in accomplishing the task was evident in the Senate when, after passing the spending package, failed to advance a second appropriations measure that includes $694.9 billion for the Pentagon. The defense package failed to win the 60 votes needed to advance with both Cortez Masto and Rosen, as well as almost all Senate Democrats, voting against the bill.

“Senator Cortez Masto opposes Leader McConnell’s attempts to use our troops as a bargaining chip to pay for President Trump’s expensive and ineffective border wall,” Cortez Masto’s office said when asked about the vote. “She’s urging all of her Republican colleagues to end this hostage taking and negotiate in good faith to pass an appropriations package that supports America’s armed forces, military families, and critical military construction projects across the country.”

Rosen’s office said that it’s the second time since September that Senate Republicans have sought and failed to advance the Defense package. Democrats are concerned that if they voted to advance the measure, they would allow Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the opportunity to substitute the package with GOP-drafted measures that would provide funding for the wall. 

VanDyke

Both Cortez Masto and Rosen took to the Senate floor last week to oppose the nomination of former Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke to serve on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Cortez Masto said that the White House did not meaningfully confer with her or Rosen on the nominee and noted that he has scant ties to the state. She also argued he would pose a risk to abortion rights for Nevada women. VanDyke served as Montana solicitor general before taking up that post in Nevada.

“As Montana solicitor general, Mr. VanDyke supported an Arizona abortion ban,” Cortez Masto said. “He contended that the constitutional right to choose should be revisited. He also defended a Montana law that made it harder for young women in that state to seek an abortion.”

“Based on this record, I fear that as a federal judge, Mr. VanDyke would limit women’s health choices in Nevada and throughout the country, including their access to birth control,” she continued.

Cortez Masto also cited an article VanDyke wrote in law school that said same-sex marriage would hurt children and families. She also cited an American Bar Association letter that deemed VanDyke unqualified for the position.

That letter was referenced several times when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. 

At one point trying to hold back tears, VanDyke said his views had evolved and that he held no animus toward the LGBTQ community.

According to the ABA’s letter, some of the “interviewees raised concerns about whether Mr. VanDyke would be fair to persons who are gay, lesbian, or otherwise part of the LGBTQ community. Mr. VanDyke would not say affirmatively that he would be fair to any litigant before him, notably members of the LGBTQ community.”

The ABA also called VanDyke “arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules.”

Republicans on the panel defended VanDyke and said the letter was unfounded. Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he may reach out to the ABA to get corroboration for the allegations.

Cortez Masto’s office last week also pointed to a critical letter from six retired Montana Supreme Court justices who urged the Senate not to confirm VanDyke. VanDyke ran for a seat on the court but did not win the election.

“Mr. Van Dyke has never served as a judge,” the letter said. “It is doubtful that he understands that judicial decisions must be based solely on the facts of the case and on the law; that the Constitutional rights of all people must be respected and supported; and that personal, religious, and partisan ideology must not be given voice through the decisions and public pronouncements of one who wears a judicial robe.” 

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation sponsored:

S. 2746 – A bill to require the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to provide information on suicide rates in law enforcement, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 2725 – A bill to modify the procedures for loan guarantees provided for Indian housing, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 2670 – A bill to award career pathways innovation grants to local educational agencies and consortia of local educational agencies, to provide technical assistance within the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education to administer the grants and support the local educational agencies with the preparation of grant applications and management of grant funds, to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to support community college and industry partnerships, and for other purposes.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 4928 – To establish the National Office of New Americans, to reduce obstacles to United States citizenship, to support the integration of immigrants and refugees into the social, cultural, economic and civic life of our shared Nation, and for other purposes.

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 4916 – To establish the National Office of New Americans, to reduce obstacles to United States citizenship, to support the integration of immigrants and refugees into the social, cultural, economic and civic life of our shared Nation, and for other purposes.