Last in the nation for nursing home resident vaccinations, Nevada grapples with reporting issues, hesitancy

When 75-year-old Mary Pippins was first offered the COVID-19 shot last December, she said no.

Nursing home staff asked her a second, a third, maybe a fourth time. She turned it down each time, her son, Chris Pippins, said

“If you ask her anything that she doesn’t really know, she will automatically say no,” Pippins said of his mom, who has brain damage and is paralyzed on the right side of her body after suffering a stroke in 2005. “For me, it seems like it’s a control thing, like she doesn’t have control of her life, but she has control over certain decisions, so she automatically just says no.”

Pippins didn’t learn his mom had refused the vaccine, though, until February, when he called her nursing home to figure out the new post-vaccination visiting protocols. It was then he learned she hadn’t gotten the shot.

His initial reaction was anger and frustration — not directed at his mother, but rather the nursing home staff. 

“Why on God’s green earth would you call me about everything else that happens with my mother, but something so important as the vaccine, you don’t notify us at all?” Pippins said.

Pippins asked his mom why she had rejected the shot. She said she didn’t know. He wasn’t able to get much more out of her than that. It’s difficult for her to answer questions at any length because of the stroke, and she isn’t able to write anymore, either, he said.

By then, Pippins, his wife, and his oldest daughter had gotten vaccinated. So he made his best pitch for the shot.

“‘I’m fine, as you can see. Nothing happened to me. I’m safe,’” Pippins recalled telling her. “‘Nothing’s going to happen to you. If we’ve all taken it and we’re fine, I’m pretty sure you’ll be too.’”

Her only reply: “I don’t know.”

But something changed Mary Pippins’ mind. In August, eight months after she was first eligible, she received the shot. 

Chris Pippins, top, pays a window visit to his mom with his daughters Callie, 11, and Sarina, 13, in Las Vegas on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (Amy Pippins/Courtesy)

Pippins later asked his mom whether she was happy and comfortable with her decision. She said yes. But Pippins still isn’t clear what took her so long to get the shot, and where the process broke down: Was his mom influenced by conspiracy theories and misinformation circulating among nursing home residents? Did she understand what she was refusing? And why hadn’t anyone talked to him?

Though news that nursing home residents were eligible for the vaccine was greeted with much fanfare late last year, Mary Pippins’ long and winding path to vaccination sheds some light on why vaccinating nursing home residents remains a challenge even now, 10 months after the effort began.

Three in 20 nursing home residents nationwide have yet to be fully vaccinated, according to the latest data from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. While that’s far fewer than the percentage of unvaccinated individuals in the general population, it remains high for a population that is — and will continue to be — the most susceptible to COVID-19 because of age and underlying illness.

The situation is worse in Nevada, which ranks 32nd in the nation for percentage of adult residents fully vaccinated but last among the states for percentage of nursing home residents with both shots. The latest data show about 1 in 4 nursing home residents in Nevada have yet to be fully vaccinated.

State health officials, members of Nevada’s congressional delegation, the state nursing home trade association and long-term care advocates have been working to both understand and boost Nevada’s low nursing home resident vaccination rate. While that rate has improved — rising from 67 percent in mid-July to 73 percent in early October — it still remains significantly below the national average of 85 percent. There are few clear answers why — but an abundance of theories.

State officials point to vaccine hesitancy coupled with challenges nursing homes face with federal reporting requirements. Nursing homes cite, among other things, difficulties with staff persuading residents to receive the vaccine while also trying to maintain a good relationship with them. Advocates believe low staffing levels may be making it more difficult to have the kinds of conversations with residents needed to persuade them to get vaccinated.

On top of that, Nevada scores poorly on a number of predictors found to be correlated with low nursing home vaccination rates. 

It is against this backdrop that Nevada now finds itself diving headfirst into the booster shot vaccination effort. Federal health officials last month approved the use of a single booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine for people most at risk for serious complications from or being exposed to COVID-19, and Moderna and Johnson and Johnson have similar petitions for their boosters working their way through the approval process.

Now, the state finds itself rolling out third doses of the vaccine to its most vulnerable residents while also playing catch up.

‘Mistakes and outliers’

Nevada has grown accustomed over the years to ranking last or near last on a number of health care metrics, from mental health access and services to public health spending per capita.

Nevada isn’t known for its excellent vaccination rates, either. In the 2019 to 2020 flu season, the state ranked last for percentage of residents vaccinated against the flu.

But Nevada has, in a sense, outperformed itself with the COVID-19 vaccination effort. The state ranks 32nd in the nation for percentage of adult residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19, at 62.9 percent, and 21st in the nation for percentage of nursing home staff fully vaccinated, at 71.4 percent.

That’s why it came as somewhat of a surprise when Nevada was ranked last in the nation for percentage of nursing home residents fully vaccinated. The most recent data show only 73.3 percent of residents have been vaccinated on average per facility

It was so surprising that U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen sent a letter to U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this summer requesting help, and state health officials formed an internal task force to look into the issue. 

While the nursing home resident vaccination rate has improved since the summer, Nevada still has a long way to go. Issues with both reporting and actual vaccine uptake continue to challenge the state.

For starters, state officials say there continue to be discrepancies between the vaccination rates facilities report to the state when surveyed and what is reported to the federal National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) database. Karissa Loper, the state’s health bureau chief, pointed to staff turnover as one reason some facilities have struggled to report to the complex database.

Loper estimated the state’s vaccination rate is about 5 percent higher than what the federal government reports, based on state officials’ individual surveys of nursing homes.

Some facility-by-facility discrepancies are even more significant, though. Take Trellis Centennial, a nursing home in northwest Las Vegas, which federal data show as having only 40 percent of residents fully vaccinated as of the week ending Oct. 3. But David Oates, a spokesman for Trellis, said in an interview last week that about 90 percent of the facility’s residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The other 10 percent, he said, are residents who have recently arrived from other facilities and are being offered the vaccine.

“I can’t speak to the reporting capabilities of any state or federal government. All I can tell you is what we have internally is 90 percent,” Oates said, adding that the facility hasn’t had any challenges with the reporting process and that all reports have been made “in a timely manner.”

“There is a discrepancy. I don’t disagree with that one based on the reports,” Oates said. “All I can tell you is that we don’t have any purview to any issues on our end.”

But state officials say the issue isn’t on their end, either.

“If a facility’s vaccination rate as input to NHSN is different from what the facility staff [report], that’s something they will have to explore and explain,” Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Nathan Orme said in an email.

Wherever the issue lies, the discrepancy between the two rates illuminates how the state’s overall nursing home resident vaccination rate could be affected by data reporting issues. While Trellis reported a 40 percent vaccination rate for the week ending Oct. 3, they reported an 8 percent rate for the week ending Sept. 26. Just removing Trellis Centennial from the dataset for that week boosts Nevada’s average nursing home resident vaccination rate by 1.6 percentage points.

Brian McGarry, a health researcher at the University of Rochester, said states like Nevada with a small number of nursing homes are particularly vulnerable to reporting errors. One data mix-up could have a significant effect on the state’s average vaccination rate.

“If you have a relatively small sample, just a couple of those kinds of mistakes and outliers can really move the averages around,” McGarry said.

McGarry also said the unwieldiness of the federal survey could be creating data quality issues. While that problem would affect nursing homes across the nation relatively equally, it could be creating extra issues in Nevada because of the small dataset, he said.

“They have done a lot of addition to this survey of adding on new questions and only a modest amount of subtractions,” McGarry said. “The survey itself keeps getting longer and bigger and more complicated to fill out, so there’s definitely a reporting burden here.”

But reporting issues is still only part of it. Compared to the national average, Nevada has more nonwhite nursing home residents, lower-rated facilities and an abundance of for-profit nursing homes, McGarry said. A study McGarry co-authored that was published last month found those factors were correlated with lower nursing home vaccination rates.

“If you didn't know anything about what the actual vaccination rates were and you were just trying to predict based on what we see in other states, you would predict Nevada to be toward the bottom,” McGarry said.

If data errors were omitted, he suspects Nevada would be more toward the middle of the pack among the states.

“But again, a long way to go. I mean, the ideal resident number here is probably close to 100,” McGarry said. “I think maybe it’s not quite as dire as the numbers look given some of those factors, but that being said, there’s no reason to pull back.”

‘The most vulnerable among us’

State officials acknowledge there is room to improve not just nursing home vaccine reporting, but actual vaccine uptake within nursing homes. Loper said the state has been working with Immunize Nevada, the only statewide immunization-focused nonprofit, to create a series of videos in English and Spanish, with closed captioning, that address concerns, which have ranged from worries about personal freedoms to the speed with which the mRNA vaccines were developed.

There are also some nursing home-specific challenges when it comes to addressing vaccine hesitancy. For instance, nursing home staff don’t always press residents to give a reason why they don’t want to be vaccinated, said Brett Salmon, president and CEO of the Nevada Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes across the state.

“[The facility wants] to maintain a good relationship that allows them to approach that resident again to encourage their vaccination,” Salmon said in a statement.

Historically low flu vaccination rates in Nevada, concern over the vaccine being under emergency use authorization and side effects related to the Johnson and Johnson vaccine have affected nursing home residents’ decisions to get vaccinated as well, Salmon said.

“COVID-19 vaccination data across the country shows a correlation between vaccination rates among the total state population and vaccination rates in nursing facilities,” Salmon said. “We are working closely with our state regulators and our national association to provide information and the latest data to help those who are hesitating to receive the vaccine. We want as many people vaccinated as possible to protect the most vulnerable among us.”

In a letter sent to AARP Nevada in September, Richard Whitley, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, said the state is also coordinating COVID-19 vaccine strike teams in nursing homes and encouraging Nevada hospitals to administer vaccines on site before patients are discharged to residential care facilities, among other steps to boost vaccination rates.

“The Department of Health and Human Service is committed to ensuring residents and staff working in long term care and similar congregate living and care settings can continue to receive COVID-19 vaccines in conveniently accessible ways,” Whitley wrote.

‘That community approach’

Even as the state lags the nation in nursing home resident vaccination rates, several facilities stand out as success stories.

Take the two state-run veterans homes in Sparks and Boulder City, which report nursing home vaccination rates of 100 percent and 97.5 percent, respectively. Amy Garland, deputy director of health care services for the Nevada Department of Veterans Services, attributes the facilities’ high vaccination rates to not only the time and effort the department has put into ensuring their residents get vaccinated, but the relationships they have built.

“We’re not like anything else. We have that sense of community, and that’s actually what I feel makes our veterans home special,” Garland said. “It’s not just a skilled nursing facility. It’s their home. It’s a community ... We’re basically family.”

The Northern Nevada Veterans Home in Sparks on Dec. 17, 2018. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Staff at the veterans homes organized education events to answer questions from residents and their family members. The staff also obtained consent forms either directly from residents, for those able to sign for themselves, or from family members, for those who could not, in advance of vaccination events to streamline the process.

“That can be a confusing process all on its own and, by doing it ahead of time, it really streamlined [everything],” Garland said. “The pharmacists were able to just go and give the vaccinations and not worry about paperwork because it was all handed to them ahead of time.”

During the initial phase of the vaccine rollout, department leadership met every day to monitor each resident’s vaccination status and what education and outreach they had planned, Garland said. Even after the big clinics in December, January and February, staff continued to follow up with those who hadn’t gotten the shot, she said.

“I myself monitored, ‘Okay, what percentage are vaccinated? Okay, why are these ones not? What’s the problem? Do I need to call the family?’” Garland said. “I think that’s why we were successful because after our big clinics, we went back and we still pushed out the information and said, ‘Hey, did you know this?’ And then we followed up after a month or two, we’re like, ‘Do you still feel this way? Is there a reason why?’ We just checked in with them. We didn’t push them, we just checked in with them to find out what the situation was and why they were feeling hesitant.”

The veterans homes’ resident council played a role in the vaccination effort, too. Garland said the council’s members, who are elected by the residents, talked about their own experiences getting vaccinated and had conversations with vaccine-hesitant residents.

For those who took a while to decide, Garland said some needed more information or to take the time to check with their doctor to see whether the vaccine would interfere with any medications. Others had concerns about how new the vaccine was and whether it was safe.

But even the late-comers didn’t have to wait long to get their shot once they decided they wanted it, Garland said. The Southern Nevada home partnered with Boulder City Fire Department and the Northern Nevada home partnered with the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System to administer the shots on a one-off basis, instead of waiting for another vaccination clinic, she said.

“I would say the majority was needing more information. I wouldn't even say convincing families because once families had the information … it really was pretty smooth,” Garland said. “We have that community approach, that family approach.”

That tight-knit community approach to vaccination may help explain why the veterans homes and rural nursing homes made up eight of the top 10 nursing homes in Nevada with the highest percentages of residents fully vaccinated against the virus — even though veterans and rural residents tend to lean conservative, an attribute that is correlated with lower vaccination rates.

For instance, Harmony Manor, the skilled nursing facility attached to Humboldt General Hospital in Winnemucca, has a 93.8 percent resident vaccination rate, nearly triple the 35.9 percent of Humboldt County residents who are fully vaccinated. Similar to the veterans homes, facility staff attribute that high vaccination rate to the relationships they have built with the residents and their family members.

“Most of our residents have been long term. We have quite a few families we’ve gotten to know and made very, very strong relationships with,” said Michel Winters, director of nursing for Harmony Manor. “I don’t think we really had to campaign anybody. I think everybody, by the time we were vaccinating people, had their own beliefs and they chose that for their loved ones or the residents here chose that for themselves. I think probably just the open communication is key as well.”

Nursing home staff also noted that, because their facility is attached to the hospital, they often get to know their patients over the course of many years through hospital visits before they wind up in the nursing home. It doesn’t hurt that they’re a small facility, either, they said.

“We’re small, staffing ratios are high. We’re able to give really, really good care because of those things,” said Robyn Dunckhorst, chief nursing officer at Humboldt General Hospital. “We’re a small community, so we know the family.”

Whether the staffing ratios, the relationships they have built or the investments they have made into infection control, the nursing home’s investments have paid off over the last year. They have only had two residents test positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, staff said. 

Both patients, who were transferred to the hospital side and quarantined, made a full recovery.

‘As quick as possible’

As the booster shot campaign progresses, state officials and advocates alike will be keeping an eye on whether it helps boost first and second dose rates. More people coming through nursing homes to administer third doses may provide an opportunity to administer a couple first or second doses along the way.

“The problem is we can’t just make sure the fully vaccinated get a booster shot. We need to look at that other 29 percent of residents that aren’t and get them vaccinated as well,” said Barry Gold, government relations director for AARP Nevada, which has been closely tracking the state’s nursing home vaccination rates. “There are two different things going on, but we can’t think of them as competing with each other.”

While nursing home resident deaths were up nationally in September, with 0.19 deaths per 100 residents, they weren’t as quite as high in Nevada, which had 0.10 deaths per 100 residents, according to a dashboard maintained by AARP. Cases, however, exceeded the national average in September, at 2.2 cases per 100 in Nevada, compared to 1.8 cases per 100 nationally. Staff cases were at the same level, 2.2 cases per 100, in September though that number dropped slightly from 2.6 per 100 since August.

Gold said the data underscore the need to vaccinate all staff and residents in long term care facilities “as quick as possible.”

While Nevada actually exceeds the national average for nursing home staff vaccinations, state officials, nursing homes and advocates are keeping a close eye on a new federal rule requiring staff at all Medicaid- and Medicare-certified facilities, including nursing homes, to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

While there is some concern that staff may quit over the vaccine mandate, state officials believe that because the mandate applies broadly to health care facilities, instead of just nursing homes, more workers will be likely to comply instead of leaving their profession altogether. There was some concern a nursing home-only mandate could have driven staff away from the long-term care profession and into hospitals and other health care settings.

“Having that general rule applied to the entire system is a benefit,” said Candice McDaniel, deputy director for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Until then, state officials are hopeful that booster shots put the vaccine-hesitant at ease.

“We’re hopeful that people seeing that third shot will think, ‘Well, let’s see, they’ve had three now that they’re okay,’ and they’ll go get their first,” said Cody Phinney, a deputy administrator with the Division of Public and Behavioral Health. “We know that that will be the best thing.”

Indy DC Download: Cortez Masto and Democratic colleagues committed to including immigration in social spending package

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After two failed attempts to get an immigration provision included in Senate Democrats' social safety net bill, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) said she remained confident that Democrats would ultimately propose one that will pass muster with the U.S. Senate's parliamentarian.

“This is an important issue that has to be done in the reconciliation bill,” Cortez Masto said in a recent interview. “This is our best shot at getting it done.” 

Cortez Masto is part of a group of Senate Democrats, led by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), making their case to the parliamentarian, the arbiter of whether the immigration and other proposals conform to the Senate's arcane budget rules.

“We're going to do everything we can really to address immigration reform,” Cortez Masto added.

She called for addressing the status of those brought to the country illegally as children, known as DREAMers, and those receiving Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which allows people from countries plagued by wars or disasters to stay in the U.S temporarily. 

About 12,000 DREAMers in Nevada participate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),a federal program that protects eligible undocumented immigrants from deportation and allows them to work. 

Another 4,000 Nevada residents participate in the TPS program. 

Cortez Masto also wants any reform provision in the bill to address the status of farm and other essential workers, many of who are undocumented.

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) also backs an immigration provision in the Democrats' spending bill, known as the Build Back Better Act, which could provide about $2 trillion for paid family leave, child care subsidies and other Democratic priorities. 

“Senator Rosen continues to strongly support the ongoing efforts in the Democratic caucus to look at all options to include immigration reform in reconciliation, and the caucus has been preparing a number of scenarios for the parliamentarian to consider,” her office said Friday. 

To pass the Democrats' signature measure—which stands little chance of winning GOP votes— Democrats are using the budget reconciliation process. That allows the Senate to pass the bill with a simple majority and avoid the need to win over the 10 Republicans to overcome a filibuster under the 50-50 divided Senate. 

But it also means that all 50 Senate Democrats must support the provision and overall bill. After initially disagreeing on the total cost and scope of the package, Democrats in both chambers are currently negotiating aspects of the measure to try to get to an agreement by the end of the month. 

The state's U.S. House Democratic members also support addressing immigration in the package. Last month, Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) wrote to Senate and House Democratic leaders and urged them to include immigration in the agenda bill. 

Parole

Cortez Masto and the Democratic senators are expected to soon present their third immigration proposal to the parliamentarian, which would allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to use its so-called parole authority. Both the House and Senate return from recess next week. 

Under DHS parole, eligible undocumented immigrants would be protected from deportation and allowed to work. But they would not have a pathway to citizenship. 

According to existing immigration law, the agency has broad discretion to provide parole, whether for humanitarian reasons or "significant public benefit," according to the American Immigration Council, an immigrant rights group. 

Parole would protect more than 130,000 immigrants in Nevada, according to the liberal Center for American Progress. The proposal would cover more than 7 million people around the nation.

On a call with reporters Wednesday, Lorella Praeli, co-president of the immigrant advocacy group Community Change Action, said that DHS parole could be an appealing option, but more specifics are needed. 

“I think a lot of depends on the details of what the parole language would look like,” Praeli said. “But we are committed to delivering for people this year.”

Her comments came as immigrant rights groups rallied outside the Lloyd D. George Federal Court building in Las Vegas to call on Congress to provide a path to permanent residency through the reconciliation process.

At the event, dubbed "Democrats Keep Your Promises" and organized by Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center, TPS holders and others voiced their frustration that the Democratic majority has yet to deliver for those with uncertain immigration status, who typically have citizens in their families and immediate circles. 

Two misses

First used in 1980, reconciliation was initially designed to allow Congress to reduce the deficit by changing tax and spending more easily. But the appeal of passing legislation that could not be filibustered drew ever-increasing attempts to include policy changes that did not have much of a budgetary impact.

So in the mid-1980s, the Senate adopted a rule known as the Byrd rule for Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), its chief sponsor, that essentially required any reconciliation provision to first and foremost impact the budget. (Congress codified the Byrd rule in 1990.)

The Senate parliamentarian, currently Elizabeth MacDonough, is tasked with, among other responsibilities, judging whether reconciliation bills abide by the budget rules—a process known as the Byrd bath. 

A former immigration lawyer, McDonough was promoted to chief parliamentarian in 2012 under former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) after her predecessor, Alan Frumin, retired. 

Senate Democrats initially sought to provide a path to legal permanent residency for about 7 million people around the nation, including nearly 113,000 in Nevada, at a cost of about $140 billion over 10 years.

McDonough rejected the plan on Sept. 19, arguing that the policy change outweighs the budgetary impact. 

On Sept. 29, she rejected the Democrats’ second proposal. Democrats sought to change the date of a 1929 law, known as the registry. The registry allows for undocumented people who have been in the country since 1972 to apply for lawful permanent resident status. The date has been changed four times since 1929. The last date change took place in 1986.   

That proposal was estimated to cost about $140 billion over 10 years and affect about 6.8 million people, including nearly 129,000 in Nevada

Again, the parliamentarian ruled that the proposal outweighed the budget effect.

In an interview, former Senate parliamentarian Frumin said that one way to get her approval would be to beef up the budget impact. There is likely a way to help the undocumented, he said, but it's unclear if a comprehensive immigration reform proposal could be crafted in a way to pass muster.

“I would go into her with anything where there is a direct impact on the federal bottom line, whether it's visa fees, whether it's direct taxes, tax credits, tax incentives, tax disincentives, with respect to people, as they exist currently,” Frumin said. 

“I think that one could argue, at least on the face of it, that those are legitimate budgetary proposals,” he continued. “Whether you can achieve any kind of meaningful immigration reform, doing that simply with budgetary resources remains to be seen.” 

McDonough was Frumin's "right hand" during the two stints that he served as chief parliamentarian—one between 1987 and 1995 and another between 2001 and 2012.

“Elizabeth, of all people, having worked as an immigration attorney, gets it,” Frumin said, adding when there is a lot of argument on a proposal, it’s typically not about budgets.

Last resort

Cortez Masto and immigrant advocates point to four other times when immigration provisions were used in reconciliation bills with little effect on the budget compared to what Senate Democrats have so far offered. 

But those proposals were likely not contested, which would be needed to establish a precedent, according to Bill Hoagland, a vice president with the Bipartisan Policy Center and former Republican Senate Budget Committee staffer. 

“I can see their frustration,” Hoagland said. “But as it stands today, there is no precedent for the those those previous pieces of legislation in reconciliation bills.”

Hoagland worked on 17 of the 22 reconciliation bills that have become law.

If the parliamentarian does not rule in the Democrats' favor, one eleventh-hour option would be to have the presiding officer, likely Vice President Kamala Harris, ignore the parliamentarian. 

Under that scenario, Harris would disregard the parliamentarian’s advice that the provision violates the budget law. The Senate is not required to accept the parliamentarian’s advice, but almost always does. That would trigger a motion from a Republican senator seeking to overturn Harris’ ruling and take the parliamentarian’s advice. But, under Senate rules, that would need 60 votes, which would fail because 10 Democrats would have to vote with all 50 Republicans to overturn Harris. 

Immigration advocates have urged the move, if necessary. 

“They can do it through the parliamentarian, or they can do it by disregarding her advisory opinions and affirming that legalization does not run afoul of the Byrd rule,” Praeli said Wednesday. “Either way, we expect them to deliver.”

But both Hoagland and Frumin said they hope it doesn’t come to that because it would set up a volatile situation for the Senate and governing in the future.

“Be careful what you wish for because if there's a switch in the Senate, then we could see these [laws] ping pong back and forth,” Hoagland said. “And I don't think that is good for long-term sustainability of public policy provisions. I think we need sustainability and consistency.”

Debt ceiling 

Meanwhile, the House interrupted its recess to return Tuesday and approve legislation to raise the statutory debt through Dec. 3. Prescient Joe Biden signed the legislation Thursday.

The House passed the bill on a party-line vote,  219 to 206. The Senate approved the bill the week before, 50 to 41. 

The deal sets up a clash over the debt and funding the government. Congress will have to act by Dec. 3 when the current stopgap spending bill expires or face a government shutdown. The nation isn’t expected to hit the debt ceiling until roughly February, but raising the limit will be part of that debate.

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.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation sponsored:

H.R.5574 TRANSLATE Act

Cortez Masto raises $3.15 million in third quarter as Senate race ramps up

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) raised more than $3.15 million during the third quarter this year, boosting her campaign war chest to roughly $8.3 million, her campaign announced Wednesday.

The senator’s quarterly spending was not immediately available, however, ahead of the full release of quarterly campaign finance reports on Friday. 

Those totals far exceed the fundraising announced by Cortez Masto’s two Republican challengers, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt and veteran Sam Brown, who raised approximately $2.4 million combined. 

The quarterly sum also represents a record amount of off-year fundraising for the senator, beating the $2.8 million she raised in the second quarter. It also exceeds all but two quarterly hauls brought in by her or Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) during the last two Senate elections. The larger fundraising totals occurred in the third quarter of 2016, when Cortez Masto raised $5.2 million, and in the third quarter of 2018, when Rosen raised $7 million.

Still, it lags behind high-profile reelection bids in Arizona, where Sen. Mark Kelly raised $8 million last quarter, and in Georgia, where Sen. Raphael Warnock raised $7 million in the second quarter. 

Cortez Masto will defend her seat for the first time in 2022, a year in which Democrats and Republicans nationwide will seek to take control of a Senate currently split down the middle. 

The first Latina elected to the body, Cortez Masto is also among four incumbent Democrats looking to defend “lean democratic” seats, according to ratings from the Cook Political Report. 

Polls conducted so far show a slim lead for Cortez Masto in what is expected to be a competitive election. Polled in a hypothetical head-to-head against Laxalt in a survey conducted by the Mellman Group for The Nevada Independent, Cortez Masto led 45.5 percent to 41.2 percent. 

In Republican Senate primary, Laxalt leads Brown with more than $1.4 million in third quarter fundraising

In the marquee race to take on incumbent U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) next year, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt took an early lead in the money battle, raising more than $1.4 million during the first six weeks of his campaign.

He was followed relatively closely by veteran Sam Brown, whose campaign last week reported more than $1 million in quarterly fundraising. 

Laxalt announced his long-expected candidacy in mid-August, and his fundraising haul since then has left his campaign with roughly $1.2 million in cash on hand, according to numbers provided by Laxalt’s campaign to Fox News Tuesday. Brown did not announce his cash on hand figure ahead of the Friday federal filing deadline for quarterly campaign finance reports. 

Fundraising numbers for Brown were also first reported last week by Fox News. 

Early fundraising totals come as Democrats and Republicans nationwide look to wrest control of a Senate currently split 50-50. Nevada, which is among four states rated as “lean Democratic” by the Cook Political Report, will likely be among just nine battlegrounds that decide control of the Senate next year. 

In her first bid for reelection, Cortez Masto has so far trailed fellow incumbent Democrats in competitive elections, raising $2.8 million through the second quarter of this year. She has not released third quarter fundraising totals yet.

Still, Cortez Masto will likely continue to hold a cash on hand advantage over her Republican challengers through the third quarter, largely because of an existing $6.6 million in her campaign warchest as of July. 

Candidate fundraising numbers also will likely be overshadowed by massive outside spending by PACs and dark money groups in the coming months. During Cortez Masto’s 2016 bid, for instance, numbers compiled by the website Open Secrets show nearly $92 million in outside spending in Nevada alone. 

Before entering this year’s Senate race, Laxalt spent four years as the state’s attorney general following a narrow win in the Republican wave of 2014. He later ran and lost a bid for governor in 2018, before reemerging as a key booster of President Donald Trump and, eventually, one of a handful of surrogates spearheading the Trump campaign’s efforts to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election in Nevada

Despite those claims having been rebutted both by the courts and by state election officials, Laxalt has continued to suggest that he may pre-emptively sue over election results in 2022. 

Though it remains unclear how the Republican primary will play out, early polling shows a competitive contest between Cortez Masto and Laxalt. In a poll conducted by the Mellman Group for The Nevada Independent last month, Cortez Masto led Laxalt among likely voters by a 4.3 point margin, 45.5 percent to 41.2 percent. 

Four other candidates, including Republicans Sharelle Mendenhall and William Eric Hockstedler, and non-affiliated candidates Gretchen Rae Low and Joseph Destin, have also filed bids for Senate with the Federal Election Commission. 

In national quest to boost diversity among elected officials, state leaders look to Nevada

From the first female-majority statehouse in the U.S. to the nation’s first Latina U.S. senator, Nevada’s racial and gender diversity among elected officials drew elected leaders from other states who sought to learn how the state helps underserved community members. 

New American Leaders, a nonprofit and nonpartisan national organization focused on recruiting and training people from immigrant heritage backgrounds to run for office, brought in leaders last month from Wisconsin, Texas, Arizona, Florida and California to learn about efforts in Nevada to support young English language learners, create an Office of New Americans and serve people who are unsheltered. 

“Nevada is one of our priority states,” New American Leaders President Ghida Dagher said during an interview with The Nevada Independent. “We have a regional program manager on the ground who builds relationships with various community organizations and different groups that helps build some of our pipeline of folks wanting to be trained and have an interest in being plugged into this greater conversation.” 

The national organization has trained more than 1,000 people in 10 years, with more than 200 members who have been elected or appointed to leadership positions across the country. 

The diversity of Nevada’s Legislature made headlines in 2018 as it became the first and currently only state legislative body to have a female majority. After last year’s election, women hold more than 60 percent of seats in the Legislature. The state is also represented by two women in the Senate — Democrat Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, who became the first Latina to in the Senate when she was elected in 2016, and Jacky Rosen, who was elected in 2018. 

The wave of increasing diversity among elected leaders across the nation accelerated in 2020 as Tennessee voters elected the state’s first openly LGBTQ leaders, Delaware saw the election of the first openly transgender person to Congress and New Mexico became the first state to elect all women of color as House representatives. Dagher says that’s just the beginning.

“What we're about here is not just getting people elected to office, but changing the entire political system by having folks who look like us as new Americans in those positions of power,” she said. “It's finding community leaders, regardless of where they stand or identify (politically), as long as they share values of the American experience and believe in building a more inclusive democracy that works for all of us.” 

Assembly members leave the chambers
Assembly members leave the chambers on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020 during the second day of the 32nd Special Session of the Legislature in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

On becoming new leaders 

New Americans, or people who are immigrants or identify with the immigrant experience, have been mobilized to step up and become leaders in their communities following the political turmoil of the last few years, Dagher said. 

“I think folks are hungry, new Americans want to be elected,” she said. “If anything, there are institutional and political structures that prevent or make it difficult for them, and we see our job is to help them understand what those challenges are and help them overcome that.”

Everton Blair, who chairs the board of education in Gwinnett County, Georgia, said being elected to leadership positions is “getting more viable” for more diverse groups of people. 

“Voters are voting for people that they see show up in the community in an authentic way that connects with them,” said Blair, one of the people who visited Las Vegas with New American Leaders. 

Blair, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica and London, became the first person of color to be elected to the school board in his county — the second-largest in Georgia — in 2018. It’s a change he believes has allowed more people to engage in conversations with the board. 

“People are more vulnerable and authentic and honest with me as an elected than they have been to previous electeds … and I think that informs the policy agenda,” he said.

He said his community members have come forward about needing school events livestreamed online, having translators available at events and having all school documents and messages for parents translated. 

Arizona Assemblywoman Melody Hernandez, a Democrat who also attended the event in Las Vegas, said her decision to run for office began with a simple question. 

“Can the folks running for the same position that I ended up running for represent me the way I want to be represented?” she said. “For me that answer was ‘No.’ I decided to step up and be the representative that I would like to see.” 

Hernandez’s father, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, inspired her from a young age to get involved politically.

“We went to protests against police brutality, we went to rally for immigration reform,” Hernandez said. “[He told me] ‘Leave the world better than you found it’ and ‘If you want something changed, you might as well step up and do it yourself.’ That stayed with me all throughout my life and I found myself being called to service in one way or another.” 

But she received pushback on the campaign trail. 

“I was told that I wasn't the right person of color to be running for office,” she said. “I was told that I was too young, I was told that my résumé wasn't impressive enough. I was told that maybe we should try giving a man a shot.” 

Another challenge for new Americans seeking to run for elected positions is simply having the time and means to do the job, said Blair. 

It’s a similar situation in Nevada, where legislators serve and are paid on a part-time basis, making it a difficult position for people who need the income of a full-time job.

“A lot of these jobs are understaffed, undersupported and underpaid,” he said. “So it actually creates a situation where if you're not independently wealthy or retired, you actually just don't have the means to be able to do your job well because there's no infrastructure for you to write policy or get your job done or make ends meet.” 

Blair added that others in leadership positions may not be immediately receptive to candidates running their campaigns with promises for change and shifting the status quo. 

“How receptive people in institutions of power tend to be to new leadership, where they might feel like there’s a question or a threat to what used to be can sometimes make people buckle down and not be super receptive to having a new leader take charge,” he said.

In spite of the challenges and obstacles running for elected positions presents for immigrants or people from immigrant families, the trip to Las Vegas in September reminded the electeds of their purpose and sparked new ideas they’re taking back to their communities. 

Lessons taken from Nevada 

The visit to the Clark County School District office stood out for a few leaders, including Brian Garcia from Arizona, who serves as the Tempe Union School Board president. Garcia was an English language learner (ELL) growing up, and primarily spoke in Spanish. 

He said he was told he wasn’t smart enough to achieve his goals growing up, and now wants to ensure students learning English in his district are better supported. A Clark County School District program dedicated to helping new Nevadans and refugees adjusting to life in the state spurred Garcia to think about support that goes beyond the basic academic needs and takes into account social and emotional needs immigrant students or English learners may have. 

“Recognizing that families have had trauma, oftentimes generational trauma, and what does that look like when they’re experiencing it in the classroom?” Garcia said. “And what does it look like when we are adapting the curriculum, so it's reflective of their experience but also is mindful of their trauma and their family and has that component so that the family is able to support them outside of the classroom.” 

The trip also inspired Blair to think about expanding financial sources for language services in his school district. 

“It’s also an interesting opportunity to have support for funding streams, when the state decides that they want to commit resources to create programming that benefits English learners, and that’s what Nevada has done,” he said. 

In 2013, Nevada allocated $50 million toward helping students learn English, establishing what became known as “Zoom schools.” The additional funding flowed to schools with high concentrations of English learners, allowing them to hire additional tutors or create reading centers. After seeing success in the program, funding was increased in subsequent years.

But a new education funding formula established during the 2021 legislative session changed the way the funding will be disbursed, in an effort to reach every student learning English, not just the ones who attend schools with high concentrations of English language learners. The move was met with skepticism as some argued the new funding formula waters down the programs that proved to be successful in the past. 

Wisconsin Democratic Assemblyman Samba Baldeh, who is the first Muslim member of the Legislature and immigrated from The Gambia in West Africa, said he drew inspiration from the tour stop at Nevada’s Office for New Americans because he’s been working on creating a similar office in his state. The office in Nevada, created through a bill approved during the 2019 legislative session, provides information and resources for immigrants and refugees, such as helping them get proper identification and driver’s licenses. 

“That will definitely help me in terms of not only putting together a bill, but also laying out what the office responsibilities will look like,” he said. “What I need to do is to be able to provide the services that refugees and immigrants in this country will need, from driver's license to settling in this country, to immigration, to job opportunities and just being able to integrate into this American society in a way they understand.” 

A visit to the Las Vegas Courtyard Homeless Resource Center, an open-air partially sheltered space where people without shelter can sleep without needing to meet eligibility or sobriety requirements, inspired Hernandez to shift her focus to the Central Arizona Shelter Services, which provides services for people who are unsheltered as well. 

“I'm meeting with them in a couple weeks to talk about how we can direct more funding towards them and what kind of programs we can help support them in and how we can get them more beds,” she said. “When I was there, I just kept thinking of the homeless community in my district and how I need to make sure that I'm there for them.” 

Elected officials visiting Las Vegas to meet with a handful of state and local leaders regarding Nevada initiatives said they walked away with new ideas and renewed energy to better serve their communities. 

“I think that this trip represents the next level to the challenge and opportunity which is, how do we actually lead effectively and become the leader that we want to be in systems that actually aren't designed to have us as leaders?” Blair said. “That's where it's really critical for us to think about ways to partner with other electeds in different cities.” 

Indy DC Download: Cortez Masto teams up with Manchin on a bipartisan path for revamping 1872 mining law

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A U.S. House-proposed hard rock mining royalty may not end up in the final version of the Democrats’ social spending bill after Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) secured support from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) for revamping federal mining law in cooperation with Republicans. 

At a hearing on the 1872 mining law on Tuesday, Manchin, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, committed to working with the GOP, the mining industry and others to rewrite the law to include a new royalty on mines on federal lands. Currently, none exists, which contrasts with mines on private and state lands.

“It's been more than 13 years since this committee has held hearings on mining reform,” Manchin said, adding that the hearing was held at Cortez Masto’s request. 

“I know we can pursue mining reform responsibly, bearing in mind mining’s importance to our national defense and economic security,” Manchin continued. “That includes making sure that taxpayers are getting a fair return on these federal resources.” 

In an interview Thursday, Cortez Masto said she told the mining industry that “the reform is going to happen,” and that the best legislative result would come from a bipartisan approach with hearings and negotiations among the interested parties.

“This is how it should be, this is the beginning of it,” Cortez Masto said, paraphrasing comments by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) at the hearing.

“So for me it's pulling everybody together now and figuring out what that reform looks like,” Cortez Masto continued.

That approach contrasts with including a mining royalty and other reforms in the Build Back Better Act, which is the multi-trillion-dollar Democratic social safety net package. Democrats are using the budget reconciliation process to pass the bill so that it can be approved on a simple majority in the Senate and avoid the need to get votes from 10 GOP senators to overcome a filibuster. 

Besides taking issue with the use of the reconciliation process and having had no input in the package, the GOP does not support the Democrats’ social spending proposals, giving the bill virtually no chance of getting any Republican votes.  

Last month, the House Natural Resources Committee approved its $25.6 billion portion of the reconciliation package, which included an 8 percent royalty on new mines and a 4 percent royalty on existing mines, both on gross income. The panel said that the new royalty would raise $2 billion over 10 years.

The House would also impose a so-called reclamation fee of 7 cents per ton of material displaced from a mine site to pay for remediation work on abandoned mine lands. 

At Tuesday's hearing, Cortez Masto said she opposed the House proposal because it would hurt Nevada's economy given that the federal government manages more than 85 percent of the state's land. She also said that the expedited reconciliation plan would not provide the time or transparency for a satisfactory process.

“I oppose the reform...that was put forward in the House of Representative, because, one, that legislation would have an unfair outsized impact on the state of Nevada where most of the land is owned by the federal government, and it imposes taxes on federal land,” Cortez Masto said. “But, more importantly, moving this type of reform through a short-term budget process would create uncertainty for the industry, and an uncertainty that supports thousands of jobs across the country.”

After the hearing, Cortez Masto said the Senate version of the reconciliation package would not include the House mining provision.

With the need to get all 50 Democratic senators to agree on the reconciliation bill, Cortez Masto’s and Manchin’s opposition likely keep the House mining provision out of the final bill.

Nevada Gold Mines

Nevada's most significant player in the mining industry is Nevada Gold Mines, a joint venture between Barrick Gold Corp. and Newmont Corp. Headquartered in Elko, the mines comprise the single largest gold-producing complex globally and directly provide more than 7,000 jobs in the state plus another 4,000 indirectly through contractors and local supply chains. 

Gold mining is the largest hard rock mining activity on federal lands, according to a 2020 estimate by the Congressional Budget Office. Most of that is in Nevada, and 85 percent of that is from Nevada Gold Mines, Rich Haddock, Barrick’s chief counsel, told the committee Tuesday.

Haddock said the company supports a royalty, but it has to be a net royalty. He argued that gold and other minerals have to be processed once found and pulled out of the ground, unlike coal. Those exploration and processing costs make a gross royalty prohibitive given the fluctuation in prices and threaten a mine's financial viability and competitiveness. 

"In the case of most gold mining, and for that matter in the case of other minerals like copper, when you discover a deposit that rock has no value," Haddock said in response to a question from Cortez Masto, adding that there is a myriad of ongoing costs that don't produce value until the end of the process.

“Then after you discover it, you have to do numerous studies on all kinds of chemical parameters, physical parameters, and try to figure out how to turn that rock into a sellable product,” Haddock continued.

Katie Sweeney of the National Mining Association said that the exploration costs are considerable, which is why a 7 cent fee on displaced material proposed by the House — called a "dirt tax" by Cortez Masto and Republicans at the hearing — would be financially debilitating for the industry. 

“There are years of exploration activities that take place before you would even know whether you have an economically valuable deposit,” Sweeney said. 

Other issues in the mining reform debate include liability for environmentalists that seek to clean up abandoned mines and the need for more federal funding for reclamation, according to Chris Wood, who leads Trout Unlimited, a national nonprofit dedicated to cleaning up rivers and streams. 

“When groups such as Trout Unlimited, groups that have no legal or historic interest in creating the abandoned mine waste, want to clean up these mines, we become part of what the lawyers call the chain of custody,” Wood told the panel. “That means that we could spend a few hundred thousand dollars to improve a stream from 25 percent of water quality standards, all the way up to 90. It might cost another million or two to get that extra 10 percent increment, and today's law would allow either the government or a person who decides to file a citizen suit to come after us for the rest.” 

Debt ceiling

Meanwhile, the Senate approved legislation that would raise the statutory debt through Dec. 3. 

The bill was approved on a party-line 50 to 41 vote with both Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) backing the measure. 

But the real drama was in the preceding vote, which needed 10 GOP senators to vote to overcome a filibuster to advance the measure, a deal reached after a couple of days of negotiating between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

In the end, Republicans put up 11 ‘aye’ votes to clear the procedural hurdle 61 to 38. 

The House is scheduled to take up the bill as soon as Tuesday, well ahead of the Oct. 18 deadline, when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the debt limit would be hit and the nation could default on its obligations. 

The deal comes after McConnell had pledged not to provide any votes to raise the debt ceiling, in part, because Republicans believe it would help Democrats pass their multi-trillion-dollar Build Back Better Act.  

But fearing an economic crisis triggered by a U.S. default, McConnell helped broker the short-term deal and sought to provide 10 GOP votes to advance the bill. He argued that the agreement gives Democrats time to pass another reconciliation bill that would allow an increase without GOP help.

But Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) oppose using the reconciliation process for the debt ceiling. They believe that Republicans should vote to raise the limit because the debt was incurred under former President Donald Trump, including the 2017 GOP tax cuts.

While McConnell allowed for a short-term extension, a path for a long-term extension remains elusive, with another debt fight expected. 

Dec. 3 is the deadline for the short-term deal. Still, the Treasury Department can declare a "debt issuance suspension period" and take "extraordinary measures" to borrow additional funds for a period without breaching the debt ceiling. That could kick the drop-dead deadline to sometime in February.  

Miscellany 

Rosen mixed it up on the Senate floor with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) over funding for Israel’s Iron Dome, the missile defense system that protects the nation from frequent rocket attacks.

Rosen, who founded the Senate Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism, went to the floor to request that the Senate immediately pass a House-approved bill providing $1 billion for Iron Dome. Paul objected and argued that while he supports Israel and Iron Dome, the funding should be offset with cuts to other programs in the federal budget. 

“Mr. Paul’s objection is unacceptable,” Rosen said. “He knows it’s unacceptable. This is no time for political games. It could jeopardize support for our allies and people in need of lifesaving assistance.”

The House approved the measure 420 to 9. 

Meanwhile, Attorney General Aaron Ford participated in a press conference Monday hosted by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains on the abortion rights landscape. 

Ford called the current fight over abortion “one of the greatest legal battles of our generation.”

He touted his office's effort on the abortion rights front, including filing amicus briefs with other states supporting the Department of Justice's challenge to Texas' six-week abortion ban law and challenging South Carolina's law banning most abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. His office also joined with other states against a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the Mississippi case on Dec. 1.

“The American people do not support these shameful attempts to return to a period in which bodily autonomy was not legally recognized, and which abortions were driven into the shadows and made more dangerous,” Ford said. “I want to assure Nevadans against these and assure them that challenges like these have no effect in their state on their rights in the Silver State.”

He noted that Nevada has a history as a pro-choice state. In 1990, voters approved a ballot measure reaffirming the allowance of abortion up to 24 weeks. More than 60 percent of voters supported the measure.

Approval of the ballot question also prevented the Legislature from changing the law. Only a “direct vote by the people” can amend the state’s abortion law. 

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 co-sponsored:

S.2985 – A bill to establish the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.2925 – Strategic Planning for Emergency Medical Manufacturing Act

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2985 – A bill to establish the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States, and for other purposes.

S.2962 – A bill to amend the Mineral Leasing Act to ensure market competition in onshore oil and gas leasing, and for other purposes.S.2937 – A bill to authorize humanitarian assistance and civil society support, promote democracy and human rights, and impose targeted sanctions with respect to human rights abuses in Burma, and for other purposes.

Independent Poll: Non-major party voters place Sisolak behind Lombardo, neck-and-neck with Heller

As the number of people registered with non-major parties outpaces those registering as either a Democrat or Republican, a new poll released Sunday by The Nevada Independent indicates the leanings of independent voters who will play a major role in determining the outcomes of tight gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.

Non-major party voters who were polled leaned slightly more Republican than Democrat, with 41.5 percent indicating they would be more likely to vote GOP in the November 2022 election compared with 38.1 percent more likely to vote for a Democrat.

In match-ups between Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and the two GOP gubernatorial frontrunners —  former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo — non-major party voters placed the governor even with Heller (42.3 percent to 42.1 percent) and about 5 points behind Lombardo (39.6 percent to 44.7 percent). 

Democratic U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto held less than a 3-point lead among non-major party voters over former attorney general and likely GOP candidate Adam Laxalt (41.7 percent to 39.2 percent), a result that fell within the poll’s margin of error.

Many non-major party registrants are actually closet partisans, pollster Mark Mellman said Sunday during a panel discussion at IndyFest, The Nevada Independent’s annual conference covering policy and politics. 

“There's a small number who really are on both sides — swing voters who could really go either way,” Mellman said. “There's some number of people who are really just ill-informed, disengaged, disenchanted, don't like either party … but the overwhelming majority of these nonpartisan registrants are actually just partisans who don't want to take a party label.”

The poll, one of three conducted by The Mellman Group for The Nevada Independent, sampled 400 likely voters not registered with a major party — 77 percent were registered as nonpartisan and 23 percent were registered with a non-major political party — and had a margin of error of 4.9 percent. Polling took place between Sept. 15 and Sept. 22 over landline or cellphone calls and text messages. 

Despite a slight preference for Republican candidates, 60 percent of non-major party voters surveyed indicated that they supported keeping the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade in place and preserving the right to an abortion, compared with 25 percent who said they supported overturning it. The split aligns with the results of the statewide poll, in which 60.4 percent of respondents said they supported the ruling and 25.7 percent wanted to overturn it.

Abortion issues are likely to be a central issue in 2022 races, amid a push from GOP-led states to impose increasingly strict limitations on abortions. Heller promised to “get the most conservative abortion laws that we can have in this state” during his campaign announcement.

And although Republican candidates have made questioning the validity of the 2020 election a main talking point — despite the secretary of state office’s determination that there was no evidence of “wide-spread fraud” in Nevada’s 2020 election — only 31 percent of the non-major party survey respondents indicated that they believe Biden won through fraud, compared with 69 percent who believe Biden won Nevada fairly. The results of the statewide poll found similar results, as 35 percent of likely voters said they believe Biden won because of fraud.

In line with the results of the statewide poll, 63.9 percent of non-major party respondents viewed the governor’s handling of the pandemic as negative, compared with 31.5 percent who said it was positive.

Though Republican candidates have pushed against mask and vaccine mandates, more than half of respondents indicated that they favored indoor masking (58.8 percent) compared with a little more than a third (38.3 percent) who said they opposed it. When it came to the question of vaccine mandates, nearly 50 percent of respondents said they supported the policy, compared with 44.1 percent opposed. 

The statewide poll results indicated similar trends: 60.1 percent of statewide respondents supported indoor masking, whereas 36.1 percent opposed it. As for workplace vaccination requirements, 49.6 percent of statewide respondents said they were in favor, but 44.5 percent were against them. 

Mellman warned that Republicans face a strategic calamity when navigating the primary and then the election.

“It's hard to win a primary without being the Trump candidate. It's hard to win a general election while being the Trump candidate,” Mellman said. “We're seeing that play out in the Virginia governor's race right now. We'll see it play out I think in Nevada as well.”

Sisolak leads governor’s race among female, Hispanic and young voters

Pitted head-to-head against Heller and Lombardo, Sisolak held strong advantages among female, Hispanic and young non-major party voters — groups that tend to lean Democratic.

Among women, Sisolak carried an 18-point lead over Heller (49.9 percent to 31.9 percent), but that lead narrowed to less than 8 points against Lombardo (44.8 percent to 37.3 percent). Heller and Lombardo both led Sisolak by about 17 points among male non-major party voters.

Of those surveyed who identified themselves as being of Latino, Hispanic or Spanish descent, Sisolak led Heller and Lombardo by more than 30 points each. And within the group of non-major party likely voters aged 18 to 39, Sisolak led each of his potential opponents by roughly 17 points. Those differences mirror the results of the statewide poll that saw Sisolak leading his potential opponents by similar margins among likely voters in those three demographic groups.

Sisolak holds advantage in Clark County

Compared to Heller, Lombardo performed significantly better against Sisolak among non-major party respondents in Clark County (Lombardo won two elections for the nonpartisan position of sheriff in 2014 and 2018). Among respondents in that group, Lombardo trailed Sisolak by 2 points (41 percent to 43.5 percent), whereas Heller fell nearly 9 points behind Sisolak (37.9 percent to 46.6 percent).

Outside of Clark County, Heller and Lombardo carried strong leads with non-major party voters over Sisolak. Among respondents living in the rest of the state, Heller led Sisolak by 22 points (53.2 percent to 30.9 percent) and Lombardo led Sisolak by 25 points (54.5 percent to 29.2 percent).

But respondents outside of Southern Nevada gave Heller significantly higher favorability ratings than Lombardo. Among non-major party votes outside of Clark County, 38.6 percent rated Heller favorably, compared with 25.8 percent who rated him unfavorably. Roughly 22 percent of those surveyed in that group rated Lombardo favorably, and the same number of people rated him unfavorably. In comparison to Heller, more than twice as many respondents outside of Clark County had never heard of Lombardo.

Unlike the statewide poll, results of the non-major party voters poll did not distinguish between Washoe County respondents and respondents living in the other 15 mostly rural counties.

Against Sisolak, Lombardo also fared significantly better than Heller with non-major party respondents who self-identified as moderates. Among respondents in that group, Sisolak led Heller by nearly 8 points (43.4 percent to 35.5 percent) but was nearly even with Lombardo (37.6 percent to 37.2 percent).

Though a separate poll of statewide voters of all party registrations was more favorable to the Democratic candidates, Mellman said the negative perception of Democratic candidates in the 2022 midterm matchups reflects the slight Republican leaning of non-major party voters in Nevada and the pandemic’s negative effects on the economy.

“When people are not pleased with the way things are going, they tend to take it out on the party in power, the incumbents and the incumbent party in the White House,” Mellman said. “And that’s why this environment is difficult for Democrats.”

Cortez Masto’s slim lead over Laxalt reinforced by support from moderates

Cortez Masto’s almost 3-point lead among non-major party voters was buoyed primarily by those who identified as moderate, as she led Laxalt by nearly 15 points among voters in that group (42.5 percent to 27.9 percent). However, more than 24 percent of people in that group were undecided. 

The statewide polling of likely voters saw Cortez Masto hold a slightly larger, approximately 4-point lead over Laxalt (45.5 percent to 41.2 percent).

Similar to Sisolak, Cortez Masto carried advantages with non-major party demographic groups that tend to vote for Democratic candidates. Among women, she led Laxalt by more than 17 points (49.2 percent to 31.8 percent). Among Hispanic respondents, she led Laxalt by 32 points (58.6 percent to 26.2 percent), and among respondents aged 18 to 39, she led Laxalt by nearly 16 points (48.7 percent to 33.1 percent) — a trend that held true in the statewide polling. 

Cortez Masto also led Laxalt among Clark County respondents (45 percent to 35.2 percent), but Laxalt held a 17-point advantage over Cortez Masto among respondents living in the rest of the state (50 percent to 33.1 percent).

But Laxalt polled significantly better among white men in both the statewide and non-major party polls, carrying a 24-point lead over Cortez Masto in the statewide results (56.2 percent to 32 percent) and about an 11-point lead among male non-major party voters (46.3 percent to 34.6 percent). 

Laxalt also carried an advantage over Cortez Masto among non-major party voters aged 60 and older, as 47.3 percent of respondents in that group expressed support for Laxalt, compared with 39.4 percent for Cortez Masto. However, the results of the statewide poll found likely voters aged 60 and older were split evenly in their support of the two candidates (46.3 percent for Cortez Masto to 46 percent for Laxalt).

Both candidates were rated more favorably than unfavorably by respondents — 37.7 percent rated Cortez Masto favorably, compared with 34.5 percent who had an unfavorable impression of her. Impressions of Laxalt were slightly closer (27.5 percent favorable to 25.3 percent unfavorable). But Cortez Masto may have benefited from name recognition. Less than 6 percent of respondents said they had never heard of her, compared with nearly 17 percent who said they had never heard of Laxalt, the former state attorney general.

In the statewide poll, 42 percent of likely voters had a favorable opinion of Cortez Masto, compared with 37 percent who expressed an unfavorable view. Only 28 percent of statewide respondents expressed a favorable opinion of Laxalt, whereas 31 percent held an unfavorable view of the former attorney general.

On racism, policing, economic equality and immigration

Leading Republican candidates, including Lombardo and Heller, have centered their campaigns around providing support for law enforcement and portrayed themselves as defenses against progressive calls to “defund the police” and divert more funding from law enforcement to other causes, such as social services, education and mental health providers.

The poll found that a majority of respondents (62.9 percent) still favor ensuring that “police have the tools and support they need to deter crime and catch criminals.” Only 32.2 percent of respondents said they favored fundamental reforms of policing and the criminal justice system — splits that align with the results of the statewide poll.

As for immigration, 40.2 percent of non-major party respondents said that they believe newcomers to the country threaten American traditions compared with 45.6 percent who said they believe that newcomers strengthen American society. Those percentages differ slightly from the results of the statewide poll that saw 37.2 percent of likely voters statewide say they believe newcomers to the country threaten American traditions.

Lombardo has positioned himself as having a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal immigration, while Heller has historically had a more fluid position on immigration.

As some GOP-led states have pushed to ban teachings of “critical race theory” — an exploration of how racism is embedded in law and how social institutions in the U.S. perpetuate policies that harm people of color — Lombardo and Heller have both taken stances opposing the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.

A majority of non-major party respondents (54.7 percent) agreed with the statement that the country is not systemically racist and that “people of color in America may experience racism as a result of the views of some individuals.” Conversely, 43.4 percent of respondents expressed the belief that people of color in America do experience systemic racism that is built into the country’s society and policies. Those splits are roughly the same as the results from the statewide poll.

“Democrats [are] very different from both independents and Republicans on this,” Mellman said about the question. ”Independents very much in the middle, but those independents [are] evenly divided by the slight tilt toward saying there is systemic racism. It's the Republicans who are overwhelmingly saying there's no such thing.”

Though the view that American society is not systemically racist was most commonly shared by white non-major party respondents, especially white men and those older than 50, about 44 percent of those surveyed who identified themselves as being of Latino, Hispanic or Spanish descent agreed with that view. A majority of women (52 percent) and non-major party voters aged 18 to 39 (50.4 percent) said they believe people of color experience systemic racism.

NON-MAJOR PARTY POLL RESULTS

NON-MAJOR PARTY POLL CROSSTABS

MELLMAN GROUP FINDINGS

Independent Poll: Sisolak, Cortez Masto hold slim leads over likely GOP opponents

With just over a year to go before the 2022 midterm elections, Democrats at the top of the ticket hold narrow leads over their likely GOP opponents, according to a new poll released Sunday by The Nevada Independent.

Gov. Steve Sisolak holds leads well within the margin of error over the two likely GOP frontrunners — leading former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller by 2 points (45.8 percent to 43.3 percent) and in an effective tie with Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo (44.9 percent to 44.4 percent). A majority of poll respondents rated Sisolak’s overall job performance and response to the COVID-19 pandemic negatively or as “only fair.” 

Despite maintaining a more favorable rating compared to Sisolak, U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto only carries a 4 point lead (45.5 percent to 41.2 percent) over her likely Republican opponent, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, among likely voters polled.

The results are a worrisome sign for Nevada Democrats — who have won the vast majority of top-line races in the state since the 2016 election cycle — while also reinforcing Nevada’s status as a true swing state.

During a discussion on the poll held Sunday, pollster Mark Mellman described the effects of COVID-19 as contributing to a hostile election environment for incumbents. But he said that could change depending on what direction COVID and the economy take in the coming year and what policies are passed in the nation’s capital.

“Each race has its own individual dynamics, individual candidates, individual faux paus people make,” Mellman said. “But what we see so far, as we said at the outset, are a set of what are likely to be very close, very competitive, very tough races.”

The poll, conducted by The Mellman Group for The Nevada Independent, sampled 600 likely Nevada voters between Sept. 15 and Sept. 22 over landline, cellphone and text — with 30 percent of respondents registered as Republican, 35 percent registered as Democrat and 35 percent registered as nonpartisan or with another party, percentages closely mirroring the state’s party voter registration. The poll has a 4 percent margin of error.

Along with the statewide likely voters poll, The Mellman Group also conducted two additional polls with one focused on likely Republican voters and the other on non-major party voters. For the first time in state history, non-major party voters make up a plurality of registered voters, creating a new political landscape ahead of the 2022 election. 

The non-major party poll had a sample size of 400 likely voters within the same timeframe and using the same methodology. Results from that poll have non-major party voters placing Sisolak even with Heller (42.3 percent to 42.1 percent) but 5 points behind Lombardo (39.6 percent to 44.7 percent). Among non-major party voters, Cortez Masto held a 3.5 percentage point lead over Laxalt (41.7 percent to 39.2 percent), with 14.1 percent of non-major party voters still undecided. That poll had a 4.9 percent margin of error.

Polling of 400 likely voters registered as Republicans saw Heller leading the race for the GOP nomination for governor, as more than 31 percent of respondents expressed support for the former senator. Lombardo followed Heller with 23.2 percent, but a larger group of respondents (27.2 percent) indicated they were still undecided about who they would be voting for in the June 2022 primary.

The statewide poll of all likely voters also found that 60.4 percent of respondents support keeping abortions legal and a similar percentage (60.1 percent) support mask guidance given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — two issues Republican candidates are pushing against.

Cortez Masto leads Senate race, margin still narrow

With the 50-50 split in the U.S. Senate and Republicans expecting to see electoral gains during President Joe Biden’s first midterm election, national Republicans are looking to Cortez Masto’s seat (won narrowly over former Republican Rep. Joe Heck in the 2016 election) as a promising pickup opportunity.

But Laxalt starts the race behind by a slim, but not overwhelming margin — 45.5 percent of those surveyed said they would support Cortez Masto, while another 41.2 percent expressed support for Laxalt.

Both candidates saw about 28 percent of respondents express “strong” support for either candidate, and more than 10 percent of likely voters polled said they were undecided between the two candidates.

Cortez Masto, who is the only Latina to serve in the Senate, received significantly more support from women and Hispanic likely voters polled. Roughly half of all women surveyed expressed support for Cortez Masto, compared with 36 percent for Laxalt, and 61 percent of likely voters who identified themselves as being of Latino, Hispanic or Spanish descent expressed support for Cortez Masto, compared with 27 percent for Laxalt.

But Laxalt polled significantly better among white men, holding a roughly 24 point lead over Cortez Masto among those likely voters (56.2 percent to 32 percent). However, Cortez Masto carried a slight advantage with likely voters who identified as white and received a four-year college degree or higher (45.3 percent to 44 percent).

The results of the poll also saw likely voters in rural parts of Nevada swing heavily towards Laxalt (61 percent to 30 percent). In Washoe County, the results were split evenly, with each candidate receiving support from 45 percent of respondents, and in Clark County, Cortez Masto led Laxalt by more than 11 points (48.2 percent to 36.7 percent).

Support for Laxalt was also significantly higher among respondents who believe the results of the 2020 election were fraudulent. Laxalt — who chaired former President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign in Nevada and promoted unsuccessful lawsuits challenging the state’s election integrity — won support from 85 percent of respondents who indicated they believed President Joe Biden won the 2020 election in Nevada because of fraud.

Cortez Masto also starts the race with higher favorability ratings compared with Laxalt.

Only 28 percent of respondents expressed a favorable view of Laxalt, compared with 31 percent who expressed an unfavorable view. More than a quarter of those surveyed said they did not know enough about the former Republican state attorney general to have an impression.

Conversely, the poll found 42 percent of likely voters had a favorable opinion of Cortez Masto, while 37 percent carried an unfavorable impression of the senator — one of only three candidates polled with a positive favorability rating. More than 17 percent of respondents said they did not know enough about her to provide an impression, and 4 percent of those surveyed said they had never heard of her.

But support for Cortez Masto lessened when it came to her job performance — 34 percent of respondents rated her performance as excellent or good, and 32 percent said she was doing a poor job. Among those who rated her performance as poor, 85 percent said they vote for Republican candidates for public office “often” or “almost always.”

There’s an advantage to being a legislator over being a member of the executive branch as a governor or president, Mellman said, noting that Cortez Masto’s position leads to more room for expression of opinions which can appeal better to voters than a policy put in place by a government official such as Sisolak or Biden.

Other Senate candidates who have declared for the election — including Democratic-Socialist Allen Rheinhart, Republican military veteran Sam Brown and Republican pageant winner and business owner Sharelle Mendenhall — were not included in the polling because Laxalt is an overwhelming favorite in the primary at this point.

Poll shows Sisolak even with Lombardo, slightly ahead of Heller

Pitted head-to-head against the Republican gubernatorial candidates leading the GOP pack, Sisolak’s lead was slim to nonexistent among likely voters polled.

Less than three percentage points separated Sisolak and Heller (45.8 percent to 43.3 percent), the former U.S. senator and secretary of state who announced his gubernatorial bid last month. Seven percent of respondents were undecided.

The difference shrank to half a point between Sisolak and Lombardo — the Clark County sheriff first elected in 2014 who announced his gubernatorial run this summer — with 44.9 percent of those polled supporting Sisolak to 44.4 percent supporting Lombardo, bringing the two candidates neck-and-neck.

Regardless of opponent, Sisolak received support from a majority of respondents (63 percent) who identified themselves as being of Latino, Hispanic or Spanish descent — slightly less than the support he received from those voters according to an exit poll from the 2018 election. Sisolak also polled better among women, receiving support from more than half of female respondents in each head-to-head question. 

Sisolak also drew more support from younger voters and Clark County residents — demographic groups that tend to vote more Democratic. Among likely voters aged 18 to 39, Sisolak led both Republican candidates by nearly 15 points. Among likely voters living in Clark County, Sisolak led Heller by 10 points (49.5 percent to 39.5 percent) and Lombardo by nearly 7 points (48 percent to 41.3 percent). 

In Washoe County — long considered the state’s bellwether county — Heller and Lombardo each saw sizable leads over Sisolak, who won the county over Laxalt in 2018. Heller led Sisolak by roughly 8 points (49.1 percent to 40.7 percent) and Lombardo led Sisolak by 6 points (48.6 percent to 42.3 percent) among Washoe County respondents. The two Republican candidates also carried significant leads in reliably Republican rural Nevada, as respondents in the rest of the state favored Heller and Lombardo over Sisolak by roughly 16 points each.

Though many Republican gubernatorial candidates are centering their campaign message around Sisolak’s handling of the pandemic and have been critical of masks and vaccine requirements, the poll found that 60.1 percent of respondents support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask guidance, compared with 36.1 percent who say they oppose it. The margins were much closer surrounding workplace vaccination requirements: 49.6 percent of respondents said they favor vaccination requirements for work compared with 44.5 percent opposed — a 5.1 point difference.

Despite the support for those policies, roughly 59 percent of respondents said they thought Sisolak has done a “poor” job or an “only fair” job at responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with 38 percent of respondents who rated Sisolak’s pandemic response as “good” or “excellent.” Those percentages were roughly the same when likely voters were asked for their opinions on Sisolak’s overall job performance as a public official.

Mellman linked the disconnect between support of mask-wearing and vaccine mandates and Sisolak’s negative ratings for job performance to the continuing nature of the pandemic.

“People like the governor's policies, they like the president's policies in dealing with this pandemic,” Mellman said. “They don't like the outcome that we're seeing. They don't like the fact that they still have to wear masks. They don't like the fact that we're still having huge numbers of cases and significant numbers of deaths.”

Abortion, Trump, Biden and policing

Polling on political and social issues underscores Nevada’s position as a swing state.

Amid a push from GOP-led states to impose increasingly strict limitations on abortions, the poll found a solid majority of Nevada respondents (60.4 percent) still favor the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that made abortion legal in the U.S., compared with 25.7 percent of respondents who believe the ruling should be overturned.

In 1990, more than 60 percent of Nevada voters supported a ballot measure codifying the Roe v. Wade decision into state law. During a question and answer period with reporters following his campaign announcement, Heller said, “I like what Texas did,” referring to a recently implemented law in Texas that prohibits abortion after six weeks of gestation. But Nevada’s law could only be changed through another statewide vote. 

The poll also found that a majority of respondents (60.3 percent) still favor making sure “police have the tools and support they need to deter crime and catch criminals.” Conversely, 35 percent of respondents favored fundamental reforms of policing and the criminal justice system.

Top Republican candidates including Lombardo and Heller have stood in opposition to calls to defund police departments — primarily voiced by progressive Democrats — as central tenets of their campaigns.

Neither of the 2020 presidential candidates saw high favorability ratings in the poll. Biden received near-even results (48.1 percent favorable to 48.9 percent unfavorable), while Trump received a higher percentage of unfavorable reviews (52.3 percent unfavorable to 43.9 percent favorable) than any other individual polled.

A majority of respondents also expressed displeasure with how the country has changed in the past 70 years — nearly 52 percent of those surveyed said the American culture and way of life has mostly changed for the worse since the 1950s, and more than 61 percent of respondents said things in the country are generally moving in the wrong direction. That view was most commonly expressed by men aged 40 to 59 and respondents living outside of Clark County and Washoe County.

Though not on the ballot until 2024, U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen was one of few elected or political leaders surveyed who was rated more favorably (33.5 percent) than unfavorably (30.9 percent). But impressions of Rosen soured when it came to her performance as a senator — roughly 43 percent of respondents said she was doing a “poor” or “only fair” job as a public official, and only 28 percent rated her performance as “good” or “excellent.”

STATEWIDE POLL RESULTS

STATEWIDE POLL CROSSTABS

MELLMAN GROUP POLL FINDINGS

Indy DC Download: Government shutdown avoided with federal stopgap funding bill, but Biden agenda bills in limbo

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy DC Download newsletter, a weekly look at what's going on in the nation's capitol as it relates to Nevada.

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Congress passed legislation funding the federal government through Dec. 3, while disagreement among progressive and moderate Democrats over the size of a $3.5 trillion social safety net package threatened House approval of a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure.

After meeting with President Joe Biden on Friday, House Democrats, including Nevada's congressional lawmakers, were hopeful that the two camps of Democratic lawmakers could agree to pass the two bills as negotiations intensified. 

"I think it shows his commitment to getting something done," said Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) said of Biden’s visit, while noting that both bills are a must-pass items for Democrats.

“Too much is at stake,” she continued. “Failure isn't an option for our districts, our constituents, for the country, for the party.” 

Approval of the two bills, which comprise Biden's domestic agenda, will give Democrats a legislative victory to campaign on ahead of what could be a difficult midterm election with control of the House and Senate hanging in the balance. Democrats hold slim majorities in both chambers. The loss of one seat would flip the Senate.

Discussions on the infrastructure bill, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the social spending package, known as the Build Back Better Act, came as the House approved a 30-day extension of the surface transportation bill, which expired Friday. The Senate will try to enact the extension Saturday. A reauthorization was included in the infrastructure measure.

No disruptions were expected by the Nevada Department of Transportation.

“While any delay is concerning, NDOT carries a balance for these types of uncertainties,” NDOT spokeswoman Meg Ragonese said in an email. 

Meanwhile, the Senate also confirmed Tracy Stone-Manning to head the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees federal lands across the nation. Nevada is about 85 percent federal land. 

The Senate voted 50 to 45 to confirm Stone Manning, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who backed her confirmation.

Stone-Manning drew the ire of Republicans, including Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), because she was asked to give testimony in the prosecution of four people convicted in 1989 of tree-spiking, where metal spikes are hammered into trees to destroy logging saws. 

But Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), said that the GOP was trying to “impute” the guilt of the four convicted tree spikers to Stone-Manning. “There is no evidence in the trial record that she participated in the tree spiking,” Manchin said.

CR and debt ceiling

The House approved the continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open past the Sept. 30 end of the federal fiscal year on a 254 to 175 vote. Thirty-four Republicans voted for the CR, including Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV).

Amodei said he supported the bill, in part, because it continues spending at levels approved under former President Donald Trump and he wanted to avoid a government shutdown.

“I voted to shut the government down a while back,” Amodei said. “Guess what? It doesn't change anything that you're fighting about.”

He also backed the measure because it did not include an effort to suspend the statutory debt limit, which the Treasury Department expects to hit by Oct. 18

Amodei recently voted against a previous CR that included a suspension of the debt limit. He also voted Wednesday against a separate bill to suspend the debt limit, which passed 219 to 212, with only Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) the lone GOP vote in support.

Amodei argued that he was concerned that the suspension would clear the debt for Democrats to pass their agenda. He also noted that it was dead in the Senate where Republicans have vowed not to vote for more debt. 

At a Senate Banking Committee hearing Tuesday, Cortez Masto sought to call out Republicans for their “hypocrisy.”

In questions she posted to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, Cortez Masto argued that the debt incurred was from legislation to fight the pandemic and Republicans should support making sure that those obligations are met. 

“That’s true,” said Yellen. “Raising the debt limit allows us to pay bills that were incurred because of those acts and others in Congress.”

Infrastructure and reconciliation

After the meeting with the president, Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) said that Biden's visit helped unite Democrats. He tempered progressives' expectations that the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better package would be less than initially hoped. But Biden also sought to bolster moderates by underscoring the need for passage of the infrastructure bill. 

Horsford said Biden believes the sweet spot is between $1.9 trillion and $2.3 trillion. 

Biden’s numbers come after Manchin has said he wants a roughly $1.5 trillion package

But Horsford stressed that he wants to focus on the policies rather than the topline. 

Horsford, a member of the Ways and Means Committee and the Budget Committee, said his priorities for the package include provisions to tackle climate change, make health care more affordable, and take care of families with affordable childcare and associated tax credits. 

“Those are the things that I have already voted for on Ways and Means and Budget,” Horsford said. “I know that means other things may not make it into this particular package, but those are priorities that I want to deliver for my district.”

Democratic leaders, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), hope to get a legislative framework on which all Democrats, including Manchin and House progressives, can agree. Such an agreement would allow for the passage of both bills.

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) also evinced confidence that a deal would get done after talks with Manchin and others.

“This is a big package,” Lee said. “There's going to be a lot of negotiations between where [Manchin] is and where we're gonna end up, and that takes time.” 

Democrats are using the budget reconciliation process to pass the Build, Back Better Act, which allows the Senate to approve tax and spending legislation on a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes needed to override a filibuster. But it's a tricky calculation because, with a 50-50 party split in the Senate, all Democrats would need to support it, including Manchin (and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who have been skunks at the party for progressives. 

Rosen, who helped negotiate the infrastructure package, said more discussions are to be expected.

“I think that we're going to see what what the House sends us and we're going to have continue to keep working on what we have and speaking with Sen. Manchin about all the things that we feel we need to do to build this country,” Rosen said.

Immigration

The Senate parliamentarian rejected the second attempt by Senate Democrats to include an immigration provision in the reconciliation bill. 

Democrats, including Cortez Masto, who is among the senators working on the issue, will continue to press their case with the parliamentarian. 

“The Senator made it clear that she will not stop fighting for immigration reform in reconciliation, which would have a major, positive impact on our nation’s economy,” according to her office. “The Senator is continuing to work with her colleagues and is looking at additional options.”

Under the budget reconciliation process, changes in legislative spending or revenues cannot be incidental. The parliamentarian ruled that the latest effort did not pass the test. 

Democrats sought to change the date of a 1929 law, known as the registry. The registry allows for undocumented people who have been in the country since 1972 to apply for lawful permanent resident status. The date has been changed four times since 1929. The last date change took place in 1986.  

A change in the registry date in reconciliation “would have allowed millions of hardworking, law-abiding immigrants to get green cards,” her office said.

Democrats have pledged to include a provision to legalize the status of those brought to the country illegally as children, known as DREAMers, those receiving Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and essential workers. 

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.2874 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exclude from gross income payments under the Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program and certain amounts received under the Indian Health Professions Scholarships Program.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2907 – A bill to establish the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States, and for other purposes.

S.2900 – A bill to suspend the enforcement of certain civil liabilities of Federal employees and contractors during a lapse in appropriations, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.2890 – A bill to allow the participants in the National Health Service Corps to defer their obligated service in order to receive training in palliative care services.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2922 – A bill to establish a commission to study the war in Afghanistan.

S.2911 – A bill to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to provide funding to States for extending broadband service to unserved areas in partnership with broadband service providers, and for other purposes.

S.2887 – A bill to codify the existing Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program of the National Park Service, and for other purposes.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation sponsored:

H.R.5427 – To regulate bump stocks in the same manner as machineguns.

Indy DC Download: Cigarette tax, capital gains tax boost to defray cost of Democrats’ $3.5 trillion bill come under scrutiny

Photo of the U.S Capitol

Good morning, and welcome to the Indy DC Download newsletter, a weekly look at what's going on in the nation's capitol as it relates to Nevada.

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Members of Nevada’s congressional delegation this week raised concerns about a cigarette tax, a new mining royalty and an increase in the capital gains tax designed to offset the cost of the Democrats’ $3.5 trillion House social spending package.

But in interviews on the House’s Build Back Better Act, they also cautioned that specifics were still being worked out with the Senate and that the final bill language was yet to be settled on. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Friday that the bill could get a vote as soon as next week. A House vote could also come Monday on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“We have to get to an agreement on the final package, the [topline] number and the payfors, and it's all still being discussed,” said Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV). 

Horsford, a member of the Budget Committee and the second-in-command of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), one of four Latino Democrats in the Senate and the only Latina, were among the Democratic lawmakers who met with President Joe Biden on Wednesday on the bill as Democrats deliberate over the details of the measure. 

Horsford said he also had an exchange with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who wants to cut the cost of the $3.5 trillion measure. Manchin argued that some of the proposed spending in the package could be put off to another time.

“Senator Manchin kind of challenged me to say well, there are certain things we don't need, we can wait,” Horsford said. “And I said ‘don't tell me what we can wait for. You don't know, Nevada, you don't know my district, you don't know the people that I represent.”

Regarding the tobacco tax, Horsford said he has raised concerns that it would hit those with lower incomes the hardest as that demographic tends to smoke more than the general population. He also has concerns about a new mining royalty for operations on public lands. Currently, there is none.

“With our mining production leading the country, I don't want anything that's going to create a negative impact,” Horsford said.  

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) said the mining royalty would harm the industry in Nevada. He stressed that mining is one of the economic engines of the state’s rural communities.

“This stuff pays for a heck of a lot of stuff statewide, including making the rurals self-sufficient,” Amodei said.

Cortez Masto, who also questioned whether it was wise to include the royalty in the bill, said she also has heard from constituents on the so-called stepped-up basis tax break on inherited wealth and an increase in the tax rate on capital gains. 

The House bill did not include a change to the inherited wealth tax break, given the opposition from farm and ranch-state Democrats. But the bill did have an increase in the capital gains tax to 25 percent from 20 percent.  

A member of the Senate Finance Committee, which is drafting the tax portion of the Senate bill, Cortez Masto is weighing provisions against how they affect small businesses and the middle class.

“I am looking at what makes sense for us in Nevada and looking at where the priority should go and how we pay for those,” Cortez Masto said. “But it can't be [paid for] on the backs of...small businesses or ranches or farms and families. There should be tax fairness.”

She said she also has concerns about the cigarette tax. 

“I don't support it,” Cortez Masto said when asked about the provision. 

But, with support from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA), the cigarette tax could end up in the final package irrespective of the opposition from some Democrats. 

Though the tax is widely recognized as regressive, Neal argued that the subsequent price increase would reduce smoking, thereby saving lives and money. 

“There is a public health assertion that's included in the conversation too so we think that this is good policy,” Neal said in an interview.

According to the left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the cost of smoking exceeds $300 billion a year in medical care and lost productivity. Those costs fall more on low-income people, and African Americans in particular are more likely to die from smoking-related illnesses than other groups. A 2020 report from the Surgeon General also found that price increases effectively get people to quit. 

The White House has also argued that the cigarette tax does not violate the president’s promise not to raise taxes on those making less than $400,000 a year because it is a discretionary  and not a necessary cost, unlike gasoline. The White House opposed a gas tax increase earlier this year during negotiations over the bipartisan infrastructure bill because it would break the pledge.

Debt ceiling

Both the House and Senate were back in session after their summer recesses just in time to deal with four issues that are coming to a head: keeping the government open beyond the Sept, 30 end of the fiscal year; suspending the statutory debt ceiling; passing the Build Back Better Act; and passing the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

The House voted 220 to 211 to keep the government funded through Dec. 3 and suspend the statutory debt limit through Dec. 2022. No Republicans backed the bill. 

Amodei stressed that he does not want a government shutdown or a default on the debt. But it made no sense to back a bill that is dead on arrival in the Senate — where Senate Minority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has called on Democrats to use the budget reconciliation process to pass the debt limit with just Democratic votes, he said.

McConnell introduced a Senate bill that would fund the government through Dec. 3, but would not raise the debt.

The Senate will take up the House measure Monday; it is expected to fail to get the 10 Republicans needed to reach the 60 votes needed to advance the bill.

Using reconciliation to raise the debt limit could take about two weeks, which would run up against the deadline for acting, which the Treasury Department said could be early next month. 

But Democratic leaders, including Pelosi, have said Republicans should vote to raise the debt because it was incurred under former President Donald Trump.  

A continued impasse would lead to a default on the debt that would hurt the economy.

Reconciliation and bipartisan infrastructure bill 

Reconciliation, which Democrats are using to pass the Build Back Better Act, allows the Senate to pass legislation that directly affects spending and revenue with a simple majority and avoids a filibuster, which takes 60 votes to override. 

Democrats control 50 votes in the Senate and will need all of them to pass the measure. That gives moderates like Manchin, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and any other Democratic senator willing to derail the package an outsized voice in crafting the bill. The House is not much easier for Democrats, where Pelosi can only lose three Democratic votes and still pass legislation if all Republicans vote ‘no.’

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) said she had urged House Democratic leadership to go below the $3.5 trillion figure to get the package through both chambers. 

“I don't think it's going to be a $3.5 trillion bill,” Lee said, adding that Democrats should fund fewer priorities rather than trying to fit all of their priorities in this one package.   

“I've been pressing the leadership to have the conversation at this point, on what it is we're willing to set aside,” Lee said.  

Asked what she wants in the bill, Lee said child care is her top priority. Under the House Democrats’ bill, most families would pay no more than 7 percent of their income for child care, with the rest subsidized by government aid. 

“Especially with childcare, you’ve got to build infrastructure, you’ve got to build a workforce, you've got to pay them,” Lee said.  “There's a lot to get the program up and running. It's one thing to say you're not going to pay more than 7 percent of your income on childcare, but then you got...to make sure you have the providers.” 

Horsford also said he’s not focused on a number. 

“I've never chased the number,” Horsford said. “I've always been about the substance. What are we getting?”

He added that he doesn't expect to get everything in the bill, but he stressed that inter-party bickering wouldn't hold up the package.

“The package, the entirety of the package, is too important to my constituents, to the American people, to American business, to American families, and to the American worker,” Horsford said. “It's time for us to act.”

He wants both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better measure to pass. But he declined to say if he'd vote for the bipartisan bill on Monday.

"I will reserve judgment," Horsford said when asked about how he would vote for the bipartisan bill. "I believe both bills have to pass, period. I said it's a false choice for us to pick. We need both.

He dismissed the fight over the process. Progressives, led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), have said they would not vote for the bipartisan bill without a House and Senate agreement on the Build Back Better Act. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) has led a group of nine moderates who have said they would vote against the Build Back Better bill unless the House passes the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“How we do that, that's a process thing here that the majority of the people in my district don't care about,” Horsford said. “They just want to know it's getting done, the benefits of coming home, and we're going to deliver.”

It’s unclear whether the bipartisan measure passes if there is a vote Monday. 

House votes

The House this week also approved the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and a measure to limit restrictions on abortion, known as the Women's Health Protection Act.

The NDAA passed 316 to 113, including 135 Republicans ‘yes’ votes. All members of the delegation voted for the bill.

Amodei put out a release defending his vote even though the measure included a so-called red flag provision, allowing police or family members to seek a court order to remove a gun from someone who might commit a violent act. He noted that the provision is typically included in the bill by the Democratic majority and dropped in negotiations with the Senate.

Amodei also touted the fact that the bill included a 5 percent increase in topline funding for the Department of Defense, a 2.7 percent pay increase for servicemembers, authorization for the procurement of over $1.3 billion in new aircraft, equipment and weapons, and $250 million to conduct counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan.

He also said he plans to work with Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) on expanding the Fallon Range Training Complex (FRTC) in Churchill County. He introduced legislation on the issue and hopes it can be added to the Senate version of NDAA after agreeing with the senators, both of whom said they were looking at the proposal.

Amodei also said he presented the proposal to the Department of Interior and received the agency's backing.

“As crazy as things are, there might actually be an opportunity to get that in” the NDAA, the Nevada Republican said. “But it's going to have to come from the Senate side.”

Amodei did not vote for the abortion access bill, which passed 218 to 211 with no Republican votes. It’s unclear whether the Senate would even consider the measure, as it would likely be impossible to get ten Republicans to support it.

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) said the bill was an important check on Republican-led states that have passed abortion restrictions laws, like Texas. The Lone State recently approved a five-week ban, which the Supreme Court declined to block.

“This year is on track to be the worst year for Republican legislative attacks on women’s health rights since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973,” Titus said in a release. “As of July, 90 reproductive health restrictions have been enacted in Republican states. These attacks especially harm people who already face barriers to health care access.”

Miscellaneous

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee's Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion Subcommittee, held a hearing Tuesday on legislation the panel is crafting that would wrap together a series of Republican and Democratic tourism-improvement bills.

“This comprehensive legislation will support the recovery of the travel and tourism economy in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic and help us build a brighter future for businesses and workers in this key sector in every single state in the nation,” Rosen said.

The package is expected to include a provision to provide $250 million to help fund Brand USA, which markets travel to the U.S. abroad. Funding for the program comes from private donations and fees charged to international visitors registering for visas to enter the U.S. But the pandemic’s travel restrictions have hurt the program’s funding.

More than 180 Members of the Vegas Chamber and the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance were in Washington, D.C. this week. They heard from members of the delegation on infrastructure, workforce development and other of the chamber's priorities.

Vegas Chamber President Mary Beth Sewald said in an interview that the group was closely watching deliberations on infrastructure and reconciliation. 

The group supports the infrastructure package, which is expected to help with funding improvements to Interstate-11 and I-15. But proposed new taxes in the reconciliation bill have concerned the group.

Sewald warned against “one more burden” on businesses that are still recovering from the pandemic.

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.2795 – A bill to require the Secretary of Homeland Security to use alternatives to detention for certain vulnerable immigrant populations, and for other purposes.

S.2775 – A bill to amend the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 to provide for whistleblower incentives and protection.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2798 – A bill to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to improve compensation for workers involved in uranium mining, and for other purposes.

ection.

S.2757 – SNAP Tribal Food Sovereignty Act of 2021

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.2812 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to establish a small business start-up tax credit for veterans creating businesses in underserved communities.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2798 – A bill to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to improve compensation for workers involved in uranium mining, and for other purposes.

S.2791 – A bill to prevent harassment at institutions of higher education, and for other purposes.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R.5338 – To amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to improve compensation for workers involved in uranium mining, and for other purposes.

H.R.5300 – To direct the Secretary of Defense to establish a tiger team to perform outreach regarding the process by which a member of the Armed Forces, discharged on the basis of sexual orientation, may apply for review of the characterization of such discharge.

REP. SUSIE LEE

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R.5345 – To authorize the Director of the United States Geological Survey to establish a regional program to assess, monitor, and benefit the hydrology of saline lakes in the Great Basin and the migratory birds and other wildlife dependent on those habitats, and for other purposes.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R.5338 – To amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to improve compensation for workers involved in uranium mining, and for other purposes.

This story was corrected at 12:08 p.m. on Saturday Sept. 25, 2021 to note that there are four Latino Democrats in the U.S. Senate.