Biden, Nevada congressional Democrats tout accomplishments, push for next $1.8 trillion plan

East front of the U.S. Capitol Building

In his first speech to Congress, President Joe Biden on Wednesday marked his first 100 days in office by celebrating his $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief law and urging action on his latest proposal, a sweeping $1.8 trillion plan he said is focused on families, children and education. 

“To win that competition for the future, we...need to make a once-in-a-generation investment in our families – in our children,” Biden said of his American Families Plan that would bolster social safety net programs, including extending an expanded child tax credit until 2025, and provide free community college.

Before the speech, Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) contrasted what she said would be a "very calm, soothing, healing, boring kind of speech" with congressional addresses by former President Donald Trump. The one-time reality TV star brought showmanship to the office and tended to go off script, sometimes to assail those who disagreed with him on issues.

“So refreshing after having had Trump for four years,” Titus said.

The address was also different because of COVID-19. While a presidential address to Congress is typically attended by upwards of 1,500 members, staff and press, this year’s address was attended by about 200 people. Tickets were given out by lottery and members were socially distanced in the House chamber. Some, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), sat in the gallery usually reserved for visitors and guests. Their guests attended on a virtual basis. 

“I'm in the gallery, socially distancing, in the gallery,” Cortez Masto said before the speech. “But I am pleased to be able to attend in person and listen to the president and his plan for this country and our families and children.”

The speech also provided a platform for Democrats up for election next year to tout their legislative victories, including Cortez Masto. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, launched a digital ad Thursday highlighting benefits of the pandemic-relief law, known as the American Rescue Plan. The ad is part of a five-figure buy, the DSCC said. 

With no roll call votes scheduled in the House this week, the delegation’s four House members watched from their districts in Nevada.

Along with the passage of the $1.9 trillion ARP, which included a $1,400 direct payment to a majority of Americans and an extension of enhanced unemployment insurance benefits, Biden ticked off other accomplishments, including exceeding his goal of administering 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office. 

“We will have provided over 220 million COVID shots in 100 days,” Biden said.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who delivered the GOP response, argued that the Biden administration had divided the nation, including passing the ARP law with no Republican votes.

“Democrats wanted to go it alone,” Scott said, indicating that overtures of bipartisanship by the White House were not sincere.

Scott also gave credit for the widespread vaccinations to the Trump administration and its Operation Warp Speed, which expedited the vaccination-development process. 

The South Carolina Republican also railed against Biden's proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan, the American Jobs Plan (AJP), for the “job-killing” corporate tax increases that would pay for the proposal.

“It’s a liberal wish-list of big government waste,” Scott said.

Scott was also critical of the American Families Plan, which he said was “even more taxing, even more spending, to put Washington even more in the middle of your life — from the cradle to college.”

Democrats in Nevada's congressional delegation praised Biden's speech and pointed to the relief that the ARP provided.

“We've seen the benefits of American Rescue Plan, just the impact of the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit,” Cortez Masto said. “And the benefit is to all families, lifting somebody out of poverty, cutting the child poverty rate in half.” 

ARP raised the child tax credit to $3,000 per child for children over the age of six and up to 17 and created a new $3,600 per-child credit for those younger than age six. The credit, which previously maxed out at $2,000, is fully refundable under the law, meaning that if the filer’s tax liability is less than the amount of the credit, that difference would be paid to the filer in the form of a refund. Previously, filers who pay no income tax could claim only a maximum of $1,400 per child.

A study by Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy said that the law would reduce child poverty by 45 percent. The law is expected to cut child poverty by 41.3 percent in Nevada, the study said. 

The law also made the earned income tax credit more generous for those without children, including increasing the maximum benefit to $1,500 from $540. 

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) said her guest demonstrated the rescue plan’s benefits. Las Vegas resident Jenna Robertson is the mother of five children. Her husband was laid off in November and the enhanced unemployment insurance, the direct payments and the child tax credit helped her family get by.

“They were able to keep a roof over their head, they were able to keep food on their table,” Lee said, adding that the ramped-up vaccine program helped get Robertson’s kids back in school.

Rosen also invited a guest, Magnolia Magat, the owner of the Truffles N Bacon Cafe in Las Vegas, which received a Small Business Administration loan.  

Nevada’s congressional Democrats also highlighted provisions in the American Families Plan that would benefit the state, including funding for free universal pre-school, hiring more teachers and reforming unemployment insurance.

Titus praised the pre-school proposal. 

“One of the things that's great for Nevada is just investment in early childhood education,” Titus said. “It's been spotty here in Nevada over the years. And yet, we know the earlier you start, the better you do, the longer you stay, and the more prosperous you are when you finish. So that part will be good.”

Lee cited $9 billion in funding to train more teachers and boost teacher diversity.

“We have a 400-teacher shortage here in Clark County School District,” Lee said. “Addressing teacher shortages, especially teachers of color and making it easier for them to get teacher preparation by doubling scholarships, I think is exciting.” 

Lee and Titus both underscored the importance of making it easier to ensure that unemployment insurance is available when needed. The AFP calls on Congress to automatically adjust the length and amount of benefits unemployed workers receive depending on economic conditions. 

The provision would ensure “that there's no future legislative delay when people are hit by tough economic times,” Lee said, which she added would allow people to get aid sooner.

Biden also called on Congress to pass gun-control legislation and reform the immigration system, which the Democrats in the delegation remained hopeful that Congress would address.

Titus continued her tradition of not inviting a guest, which before the pandemic would leave an empty seat in the chamber, to highlight the need to address gun violence. She began the tradition after the Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas. 

She believes that a compromise can be reached to expand background checks. 

“Surely the Senate can come up with something on background checks, 90 percent of the people of this country, I think, support it.”

On immigration, members of the delegation also said that they were focused on action. 

A group of Temporary Protected Status recipients who live in Las Vegas but are originally from El Salvador and Honduras participated in a protest in the nation’s capitol calling for federal action to become permanent residents. TPS is provided to individuals from certain designated countries to stay in the U.S. on humanitarian grounds. TPS for Salvadorans and Hondurans expires in October.

Titus, who voted for a bill to provide a pathway to citizenship for TPS recipients that passed the House last month, said she was confident that Biden would extend that deadline. 

"The deadline for some of these TPS folks is next October," Titus said. "I believe, between now and then, the administration will be taking some action to protect them." 

Indy DC Download: The Senate hears impeachment trial opening arguments as Nevada senators react to threat to cut entitlements

The U.S. Capitol

The Senate last week heard opening arguments in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial as Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen sharply pushed back against Trump’s comment from Davos that he’d be open to cutting entitlement programs like Medicare.

With the House in recess last week, all eyes were on the Senate which is in the throes of the impeachment trial.

Both Cortez Masto and Rosen sat at their desks, along with the rest of their Senate colleagues, during the impeachment proceedings. They both have been reticent about their views on the evidence presented so far.

“All 100 Senators swore an oath to ‘do impartial justice according to the Constitution & law,’ Rosen wrote on Twitter Tuesday.  “I’m taking my constitutional role as a juror seriously & am reviewing all the evidence with an open mind. This is a solemn time & it's crucial that we conduct a fair, impartial trial."

Impeachment

On Friday, House impeachment managers, led by Rep. Adam Schiff of California, wrapped up their opening arguments, which they began Wednesday. 

The president’s legal team will begin making opening arguments on Saturday. The Senate will take Sunday off, but the Trump team will resume Monday. They have through Tuesday to complete their argument, but they are expected not to go past Monday. 

At every turn, Democrats underscored their argument that Trump abused his office by withholding military aid to Ukraine, and a White House visit, to force the Ukranian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential political rival for the presidency. 

“When President Trump used Ukraine’s leader for a political favor and withheld critical military aid to an ally in exchange for that favor, he did what our framers feared most,” Schiff said Friday. “He invited foreign interference in our elections and sold out our country for his personal benefit.” 

The House managers used Friday to focus on showing that the president obstructed Congress, one of the two articles of impeachment the House approved last month, by not cooperating with their investigation.

But House managers also used the first part of Friday to pound home the theme that Trump poses a danger and must be removed from office, a line of argument that started Thursday in connection with proving the abuse of power article of impeachment.

In finishing up on Thursday evening, Schiff, who became emotional at the end of his speech, made the case for removal. Schiff cited Trump’s decision to retain his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani—who has made unsubstantiated corruption allegations about Biden and his son Hunter who served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company—to establish an unofficial back channel to Ukraine. Giuliani also maintains, as does Trump, that Ukraine, and not Russia, meddled in the 2016 election, which has been discredited by the intelligence community and FBI Director Christopher Wray. 

“This is why he needs to be removed,” Schiff said. “Donald Trump chose Rudy Giuliani over his own intelligence agencies, he chose Rudy Giuliani over his FBI Director, he chose Rudy Giuliani over his own national security advisors when all of them were telling him that this Ukraine 2016 stuff is kooky, crazy Russian propaganda. He chose not to believe them, he chose to believe Rudy Giuliani. That makes him dangerous to us, to our country.” 

“Why would anyone in their right mind believe Rudy Giuliani over Christopher Wray?” Schiff continued. “Because he wanted to and because what Rudy was offering him was something that would help him personally and what Christopher Wray was offering him was merely the truth. What Christopher Wray was offering him was merely the information he needed to protect his country and its elections. But that’s not good enough; what’s in it for him, what’s in it for Donald Trump. This is why he needs to be removed.”

Schiff sought to underscore the point by referencing a recent effort by Russia to hack Burisma and he raised the prospect of Russia leaking fake documents purportedly from Burisma incriminating Biden.

“Can you have the least bit of confidence that Donald Trump will stand up to them to protect our national interest over his own personal interest?” Schiff said. “You know you can’t, which makes him dangerous to this country. You know you can’t. None of us can.”

Schiff ended his speech with an appeal to conscience.

“The framers could not protect us from ourselves if right and truth don’t matter,” he said as he appeared to tear up a bit. “And you know what he did was not right.”

Not enough Republicans, if any, are likely to vote with Democrats to clear the two-thirds majority vote needed to oust Trump.

That seemed apparent in comments made by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina Friday who attributed the entire affair to differences regarding foreign aid, which Trump wants to cut around the world. 

“What they don’t get is Trump,” Graham said. “They have foreign policy differences with this president. They don’t get where he’s coming from.”

Graham said he mostly opposes the president’s positions on foreign aid, but he respects his perspective and the need to justify the use of federal dollars to achieve policy goals abroad.

Graham also said that he supports an investigation into the Bidens’ work in Ukraine. 

“I think he’s right,” Graham said of Trump, adding that Biden, a former Senate colleague, is a good friend.

“That is not good foreign policy,” Graham continued. “It is not good government.”

He added that he does not believe Trump acted improperly when he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate. 

Entitlements

As impeachment burned in Washington, Trump was at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

At the meeting, which attracts heads of state and the business elite, Trump gave an interview with CNBC in which he was asked about the deficit and whether he would ever tackle entitlement programs, which include programs like Social Security and Medicare. 

“At some point they will be,” Trump said, adding that he expected to do it at some point in the future when economic growth is strong and that it would be easy to do.

“And at the right time, we will take a look at that,” he continued.

The comment contradicts a 2016 campaign promise not to cut Social Security. Trump later took to Twitter to say that it is the Democrats who pose a threat to Social Security.

Cortez Masto pointed out the contradiction in a release and said the cut would hurt “thousands of Nevadans.”

“As a candidate, Donald Trump promised that he would not cut programs that Nevada’s seniors, families, and disabled communities rely on to stay healthy and safe,” she said. “Now the President may be trying to walk it back, but just yesterday, he said that it would be ‘easy’ for him to slash critical programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, threatening the health and incomes of thousands of Nevadans and millions of Americans. The President’s comments should concern us all.”

Rosen also pledged to oppose any cuts.

“It is unacceptable for the President to go back on his word and discuss cuts to Social Security and Medicare,” Rosen said. “Nevadans have worked hard throughout their lives to earn these benefits. We can’t allow this Administration to go back on our nation’s promise to our seniors. I remain committed to protecting and strengthening Social Security and Medicare for our seniors and future generations."

Miscellany

Rep. Dina Titus announced Friday that she will hold a hearing on the General Services Administration (GSA) program to lease federal property to private sector clients. The hearing will also explore the potential sale of the Trump Hotel in Washington. 

The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday and GSA administrator Emily Murphy is expected to testify. Titus is chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management  subcommittee, which oversees GSA.

The hearing comes as Trump is reportedly exploring a sale of the hotel and Titus is interested in who would be eligible to buy it, according to her office. The hotel is located in the Old Post Office, which is owned by the federal government and leased to the Trump Organization.

As chairman of the panel, Titus has helped investigate, along with Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio of Oregon, whether Trump violated to  Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution with the lease of the property. The clauses are designed, in part to prevent prevent corruption and limit foreign influence.

With the recent discussion on reining in Trump’s warfighting powers following his decision to target and kill Iranian General Qasem Soleimani earlier this month, Cortez Masto and Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah wrote to Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday asking a series of 12 detailed questions about the U.S. mission in Syria.

Among the questions they asked were whether threats to U.S. troops in Syria, both at the oil fields and at Al Tanf military base have changed since the killing of Soleimani and what steps are being taken to protect soldiers in Syria from Iranian retaliation. They want answers by Feb. 13.

Both Cortez Masto and Rosen praised the release by the Department of Justice of six months’ worth of the $16 million awarded to assist survivors of the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival Massacre. The funds were provided through the Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program (AEAP).

“Two years ago, Las Vegas experienced the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history,” the senators said. “Survivors and families who lost their loved ones are still dealing with the physical and emotional scars from this tragedy, and they depend on Nevada’s dedicated service providers for the resources and support they need to heal.”

The funds came after the two wrote to Attorney General Bill Barr earlier this month.

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. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S. Res. 481 – A resolution commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Cortez Masto, Rosen praise Trump's intention to nominate Togliatti to federal bench

Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen applauded President Donald Trump's announcement Wednesday that he intends to nominate Jennifer Togliatti to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for Nevada.

“We welcome the nomination of Judge Togliatti, a Nevadan who served twenty years on our state court bench, including as Chief Judge for Clark County’s Eighth Judicial District Court,” the two said in a joint statement. “Over the course of her three decades of service in the Nevada legal community, Togliatti has ruled in some of the most difficult cases our state has seen, yet she maintains a reputation as a fair-minded and objective judge. We look forward to meeting with her and reviewing her full record.” 

Togliatt retired as a full-time state judge in December. She works as a mediator and arbitrator for Advanced Resolution Management (ARM) in Las Vegas.

Appointed to Nevada’s Eighth Judicial District Court by Gov. Kenny Guinn in 2002, during her nearly two-decade tenure Togliatti presided over more than 250 jury trials and conducted more than 300 settlement conferences, according to her biography on the ARM website.

“Her settlements have involved complex, multi-party cases with resolutions totaling well over a half-billion dollars,” ARM said.

Some of her career highlights include being tapped by the Nevada Supreme Court in 2012 to conduct a mandatory settlement conference for civil lawsuits that were filed as a result of the hepatitis C outbreak in Southern Nevada in 2007 and 2008. 

In 2014, she helped settle a construction defect case involving Tutor Perini Corp., various sub-contractors, casino giant MGM Resorts International and CityCenter’s Harmon Hotel. 

Before serving as a judge, she was a deputy district attorney for Clark County.  

Togliatti earned her B.S. from UNLV and her J.D. from the California Western School of Law.