Indy DC Download: Congress approves Juneteenth federal holiday as House repeals 2002 Iraq war authorization

Congress voted to create a new national holiday to celebrate Juneteenth as the House voted to repeal the 2002 authorization that allowed President George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq.

Those votes came as the Senate confirmed six of President Joe Biden's nominees, including Tommy Beaudreau, now the number-two official at the Department of Interior. Beaudreau's nomination, approved on an 88 to 9 vote, was a compromise after a reversed course on Biden’s initial choice for the position.

Original nominee Elizabeth Klein, who helped challenge President Donald Trump’s energy policies as deputy director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law, was viewed as a threat by senators from fossil-fuel states, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

Both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Jacky Rosen supported Beaudreau’s nomination. The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which oversees public lands around the nation, controls about 67 percent of Nevada for various activities, including grazing, recreation, mining, wild horses and conservation.

Members of the congressional delegation also participated in a series of hearings, including one led by Cortez Masto’s public lands subcommittee. The panel took a look at several pieces of legislation, including her Clark County Lands bill and Ruby Mountains Protection Act.   

Juneteenth

The House on Thursday approved a bill, 415 to 14, that established a new federal holiday to celebrate Juneteenth, which commemorates the effective end of slavery in the U.S. The African-American community had celebrated the holiday going back to its origin, when slaves in Galveston, Texas, were finally told that they had been freed on June 19, 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The new holiday’s name combines June with the last few letters of nineteenth. 

All members of the delegation supported the legislation. The Senate approved the measure Tuesday by unanimous consent.

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), who serves as first vice-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, attended the bill's signing ceremony Thursday at the White House. 

Horsford said he hopes the momentum can carry over to passing an expansion of voting rights, a broad infrastructure package and other pieces of the Democrats’ agenda he argues will help African Americans and others.  

“I call on my fellow members of Congress to join me and take the next step—making real change for Black Americans,” Horsford said. “With renewed energy from today’s victory, we must redouble our efforts to improve police accountability, protect voting rights, and pass a jobs bill that allows every family to thrive.”

The holiday this year falls on a Saturday, so federal workers got Friday off in observance. But Gov. Steve Sisolak said he did not have authority, without action by the Legislature, to require the Friday observance in the state. The legislature wrapped up its session in May. However, Sisolak did sign a proclamation naming June 19, 2021, as Juneteenth National Freedom Day in Nevada. 

On Saturday, he’ll join the DISCOVERY Children’s Museum in Las Vegas for a flag-raising ceremony and poetry reading by Clark County Poet Laureate Vogue Robinson in honor of Juneteenth. 

“I encourage all Nevadans to join me in observing Juneteenth this Saturday to commemorate the day when the message was delivered to the last American slaves that they were now free," Sisolak said in a release. 

AUMF

The House voted to repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that has been used to continue military operations in the Middle East on a 269 to 161 vote, with 49 Republicans voting with Democrats. 

All Nevada’s House Democrats supported the repeal. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) did not. 

Many Republicans opposed the repeal. Led by House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX), they argued that, without replacing the AUMF, the repeal would hinder the president's ability to protect the nation from terrorist threats.

The 2002 AUMF gave President George W. Bush the OK to fight the Iraq war. But it has since been used to justify other military activity, including the assassination of an Iranian general in 2020. 

McCaul cited the assassination as evidence that the AUMF is needed to counter threats posed by Iran proxy-fighters in Iraq unless replaced with something more targeted.

“The Biggest threat in Iraq is not Saddam Hussein,” McCaul said. “It is the Iran-sponsored terrorist groups attacking our diplomats, our soldiers, our embassy and our citizens.” 

“They cannot be targeted using the 2001 AUMF because they are not associated with the forces of Al Qaeda, the Taliban or ISIS,” McCaul continued. “But they can be targeted using the 2002 AUMF.”

Supporters of the repeal, such as Rep. Dina Titus, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said it would allow Congress to have a more significant role in deciding issues of war and peace. Presidents since Bush have increasingly relied on the AUMFs to expand executive powers on using force.

“It’s long since time,” Titus said of repealing the AUMF. “If you want to have authorization to do something, it should be timely and specific.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate would consider the repeal later this year. 

Clark County lands

Cortez Masto held her first hearing as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Public Lands, Forests and Mining Subcommittee. At the hearing, 14 bills, including the Clark County Lands Bill and the Ruby Mountains Protection Act, were discussed.

Nada Culver, BLM deputy director of policy and programs, said the Biden administration “supports the goals of the [Clark Lands Bill], as they align with administration priorities.”

In written testimony, Culver said that the agency had a few issues with the bill, though, including providing adequate time to do land surveys and other technical clarifications. 

Both BLM and Cortez Masto said they plan to iron those out.

“BLM’s testimony demonstrated that they support the [Clark lands] bill, and that they understand the needs of our local municipalities,” Cortez Masto’s office said. “The Senator looks forward to working with the BLM and relevant stakeholders to work out these technical issues.”

Cortez Masto hopes to get the bills through the committee in the “coming months.” 

BLM also said it supports the goal of the Ruby Mountains Protection Act, which would prohibit further oil and gas leasing.

Marci Henson, the director of the Clark County Department of Environment and Sustainability, also testified. She said that the Clark lands bill would allow the county to plan for the 820,000 new residents expected by 2060.

The county consists of 5.2 million acres, but 89 percent is administered by a federal land management agency or the Department of Defense. The majority of land, more than 2.6 million acres, is administered by BLM.

“Due to this federal land ownership in Southern Nevada, our options for planning and development are very constrained and require significant coordination with federal land management agencies,” Henson said.

The bill, as introduced, would open up a large stretch of federal public land running south along the I-15 corridor toward Jean and the California border, for potential commercial and residential development. It also would open up public land near Indian Springs, Laughlin and the Moapa Valley.

The legislation also proposes conserving about 2 million acres of public land. 

The bill would establish 337,406 million acres of wilderness in the county, and protect about 1.3 million acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness. 

The refuge is the largest in the contiguous U.S. and has faced recent threats with the Air Force looking to expand a training range. The bill also would set aside about 350,000 acres of land for wildlife habitat.

The Sierra Club's Toiyabe chapter and the Greater Basin Water Network issued releases during the hearing arguing that the planned development would put more pressure on dwindling water resources and exacerbate extreme heat with more paved surfaces. 

But Cortez Masto's office said that the bill is designed to ensure the growth is sustainable and takes these concerns into account.

"Without a collaborative, locally-focused approach, Clark County's growth would be dangerously unregulated, and uncoordinated," her office said. "Environmentally sensitive land could be sold to developers seeking quick profits who are willing to ignore conservation rules or are outside the County's sustainable growth and climate mitigation plans." 

Cortez Masto’s office also pointed to the endorsement of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), which serves the Las Vegas metro area. “The Southern Nevada Water Authority strongly endorses this important bill because it helps secure the water resources and facilities that SNWA needs to provide reliable and safe water to our customers for decades to come,” said SNWA General Manager John Entsminger. 

Infrastructure

Congress is waiting on Biden for a decision on a path forward on infrastructure.

A bipartisan group of senators are working on a deal that would provide about $1.2 trillion funding with roughly $600 billion in new spending, and the remaining coming from previously approved spending. But Biden rejected some of the offsets proposed, including indexing the gas tax to inflation, which he said would violate his pledge not to raise taxes on those earning less than $400,000 a year.

Senate Democrats, according to Politico, are also talking about a package — priced at $6 billion — that they could pursue should bipartisan talks break down. 

Democrats would use the reconciliation process, which allows the Senate to approve tax and spending legislation on a simple majority, to pass the mega-spending package. But it's a tricky calculation because, with a 50-50 party split in the Senate, all Democrats would need to support it, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who both have said they want a bipartisan deal on infrastructure.

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) said she too wants a bipartisan deal, though she wouldn’t rule out supporting a Democrat-only drafted package. 

“The devil is in the details,” she said of anything she’ll have to vote on.

“I’m looking for a two-step solution,” Lee, a member of the centrist Problem Solvers Caucus, continued. 

Such a path would include a bipartisan deal on traditional infrastructure and a Democratic reconciliation package that would include extending the child tax credit, funds for child care and other “care economy” programs that the GOP is unlikely to support.

Horsford said he would also prefer a bipartisan deal, but noted a single large package would ensure those "care economy" priorities don't get left behind.

He argued that using reconciliation does not preclude Republicans from supporting the bill, though they would have little political incentive to do so.

But with bipartisan talks underway, Horsford, a member of the Problem Solvers, said he remains hopeful that the "care economy" provisions can be included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill currently being negotiated. 

“I am not convinced that we can't get it in the first package,” Horsford said. 

“I meet with Republicans all the time and they recognize that we can’t only do the component around ‘hard infrastructure.’

“I really want to talk about who this impacts, because it's women and people of color that were the hardest hit during this pandemic, and if we don't have policies that Susie Lee and I are pushing, then we're going to leave a whole segment of our population behind and we can’t do that.”

Miscellany

Lee also voted against the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Disclosure Simplification Act, which was passed by the House 215 to 214. She was one of four Democrats to oppose the bill. 

The measure would require public companies to disclose certain environmental, social, and governance matters in annual filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Lee said that the bill would add more bureaucratic requirements for businesses just as they are trying to overcome economic headwinds created by the pandemic.

"As Nevada businesses are working to recover from this pandemic and get our economy back on track, this bill adds more unnecessary red tape that would be especially burdensome for smaller companies that don’t have armies of compliance experts and lawyers,” Lee said in a statement from her office. “I remain committed to supporting legislation that more directly strengthens protections for workers, fights climate change, reforms our campaign finance system to make it more transparent, and closes tax loopholes that are often abused by some of the largest corporations."

Also, the Senate Commerce Committee approved a transportation bill Wednesday that included a provision from Rosen designed to improve the travel and tourism industry. The measure included Rosen’s Travel Optimization by Updating and Revitalizing Infrastructure Act, which would update the National Travel and Tourism Infrastructure Strategic Plan with both immediate-term and long-term strategies. Those strategies would guide the Department of Transportation (DOT) and other agencies on infrastructure investments to revive the travel and tourism industries in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill also included three amendments offered by Rosen, including a requirement that the DOT conduct a study on travel and tourism to evaluate the agency’s ability to consider criteria in weighing applicants for its grant programs.

The measure approved by the committee, the Surface Transportation Investment Act, would provide $78 billion over five years for rail infrastructure, freight transportation, safety initiatives and transportation-related research and development programs.

“This new funding will help to significantly increase ease of access to transportation in communities in Nevada and across the United States,” Rosen said. 

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.2128 – A bill to ensure the humane treatment of pregnant women by reinstating the presumption of release and prohibiting shackling, restraining, and other inhumane treatment of pregnant detainees, and for other purposes.

S.2118 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide tax incentives for increased investment in clean energy, and for other purposes.

S.2115 – A bill to amend title 28, United States Code, to prohibit the exclusion of individuals from service on a Federal jury on account of sexual orientation or gender identity.

S.2094 – A bill to provide for a new building period with respect to the cap on full-time equivalent residents for purposes of payment for graduate medical education costs under the Medicare program for certain hospitals that have established a shortage specialty program.

S.2087 – A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to expand the membership of the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans to include veterans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender diverse, gender non-conforming, intersex, or queer.

S.2069 – A bill to expand the Medicaid certified community behavioral health clinic demonstration program and to authorize funding for additional grants to certified community behavioral health clinics.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2120 – A bill to establish the United States-Israel Artificial Intelligence Center to improve artificial intelligence research and development cooperation.

S.2090 – A bill to prevent a person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime, or received an enhanced sentence for a misdemeanor because of hate or bias in its commission, from obtaining a firearm.

S.2082 – A bill to mitigate drug shortages and provide incentives for maintaining, expanding, and relocating the manufacturing of active pharmaceutical ingredients, excipients, medical diagnostic devices, pharmaceuticals, and personal protective equipment in the United States, and for other purposes.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3988 – To authorize contributions to the United Nations Population Fund, and for other purposes

H.R. 3938 – To authorize contributions to the United Nations Population Fund, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3930 – To amend title 38, United States Code, to expand the membership of the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans to include veterans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender diverse, gender non-conforming, intersex, or queer.

H.R. 3929 – Disarm Hate Act

H.R. 3896 – To amend the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development Act of 2018 to authorize support in high-income economy countries for projects involving development or processing of covered critical materials if such support furthers the national security interests of the United States.

H.R. 3884 – To suspend the provision of security assistance to the Philippines until the Government of the Philippines has made certain reforms to the military and police forces, and for other purposes.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3974 – To extend the trade adjustment assistance program, and for other purposes.

‘DACAversary:’ Dreamers re-up calls for congressional action after nine-year battle for permanent status

Local leaders and immigrant advocates marked the ninth anniversary of the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) by once again calling for congressional action on pending legislation that would create a path to citizenship for thousands of “Dreamers.”  

Tuesday marked the anniversary of the Obama-era DACA program, which protects an estimated 640,000 people nationwide who were brought to the country undocumented as children, including around 12,000 in Nevada, according to government data.

“Today is an incredible celebration for us of this anniversary – or ‘DACAversary’ – which we've celebrated every single year, and the excitement that surrounds remembering June 15, 2012, when so many of us were awoken by the excitement of what may come,” Astrid Silva, DACA recipient and executive director of Dream Big Nevada, said during a press conference in Las Vegas. “It has opened so many doors for us to be able to continue fighting for a pathway to citizenship.”

Clark County Commissioner William McCurdy II, Las Vegas Councilwoman Olivia Diaz and North Las Vegas Councilman Isaac Barron joined Silva, among others, to offer messages of support to those in attendance and to call for action from Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen and the Biden administration. 

Congress is considering the American Dream and Promise Act and the DREAM Act. Each measure aims to create a path to permanent status for hundreds of thousands of people covered under DACA and living in the U.S. with temporary status.

The House passed the American Dream and Promise Act in March, but the Senate has yet to consider the bill, in part, because 10 Senate Republicans would be needed to pass the measure with the 50-50 party split in the chamber. The House bill only got nine GOP votes.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of the Senate Budget Committee, told reporters Wednesday that immigration reform could end up in an infrastructure bill as a way to help pay for the package under the reconciliation process. Under Senate rules, reconciliation allows legislation that directly affects spending and taxes to avoid a filibuster — which requires 60 votes to overcome — and pass the chamber on a simple majority.

“Anytime there’s been a [Congressional Budget Office] examination of what immigration reform would do, it produces a significant increase in the [Gross Domestic Product] without really costing much money,” Kaine said. “So that may not be a traditional pay for but if we feel like there’s something we could do within a reconciliation vehicle that could produce significant economic growth.”

Cortez Masto is working with a bipartisan group of senators to see if an immigration deal can be struck, but has not signaled that they have made much, if any, progress.

The proposed legislation comes after the program was reinstated in December 2020 after being suspended by former President Donald Trump in 2017. While the program was suspended, only renewals were allowed, as the Trump administration stopped accepting first-time applicants. 

“DACA is still under imminent threat. And the only pathway that we see is the pathway to citizenship, which will provide the certainty that Dreamers and their families need,” McCurdy said. “Now is the time to step up. Now is the time to create a quality of life that all of our families can enjoy. And that pathway is by passing the two bills that are now stuck in the Senate.” 

On Tuesday, several Democratic senators, including Rosen, signed on to a letter spearheaded by Cortez Masto and sent to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services seeking answers about recent delays in DACA application processing. In a tweet, she said the Trump administration created an “extreme backlog.” 

“Dreamers are our friends and neighbors. These delays have made it impossible for many to work and support their families,” Cortez Masto continued in another tweet. “While we continue negotiating a bipartisan immigration bill with a path to citizenship for Dreamers, we must make sure the DACA program is actually working.”

A pending 2018 lawsuit in Texas adds to uncertainty about DACA’s fate — U.S. District Court Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the Southern District of Texas could decide that DACA is unlawful. Silva urged eligible Nevadans to apply as soon as possible with that in mind.

“It's not about necessarily hurrying or causing panic. We've been waiting for the court decision since Dec. 22, and so every day that passes by I say, ‘yes, one more day to apply,’ but this isn't something that's going to be stable forever,” Silva told The Nevada Independent in an interview. “There's no deadline, but there are outside factors that could change it. And it's moving fast, very fast.”

Dream Big Nevada and the Immigrant Home Foundation, which focus on immigration advocacy, providing resources and support, held their first in-person, first-time DACA applicant workshop after holding only virtual workshops since December. In the nine years the program has existed, the Immigrant Home Foundation has helped more than 5,600 DACA applicants, including those applying for the first time and renewals, according to Cristhian Barrera, DACA program coordinator for the foundation. 

“It's incredible to think that it has been nine years, because I think so many of us thought that this was going to be kind of a temporary thing, that it would kind of hold us over while they were figuring it out in Congress, and so it's exciting to see how all of us have grown — but it's also very frustrating,” Silva said on Tuesday. “And some days, it's very, very easy to want to give up …. But we have to pick ourselves up and remember that we have gotten this far because of all of us. We have gotten to this place because all of your dreams matter.”

Outdoor recreation chief: Industry needs boost for BLM, Forest Service budgets and aid for rural communities

Colin Robertson, head of the state’s Division of Outdoor Recreation, called for more federal funding for land management along with investment in rural communities to help better manage resources stressed by the pandemic, which drove more campers to remote areas even as jobs decreased in outdoor recreation.

Robertson said he believes boosting annual appropriations for the Department of Interior, including the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, which control more than 80 percent of land in Nevada, would position the industry for a comeback and needed growth. 

“One of the biggest impacts my role and my office of outdoor recreation in Nevada can have is to advocate for increased resourcing for those federal land management agencies who are responsible for so much public land in the state,” Robertson said on Tuesday.

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) visits with Outdoor Recreation Administrator Colin Robertson after a hearing, June 15, 2021. (Photo by Humberto Sanchez)

He spoke after testifying before a Senate tourism and hospitality panel chaired by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) on the state of the U.S. outdoor recreation industry. Nevada lost about 6 percent of the jobs in its outdoor recreation economy during the pandemic, according to a study commissioned by Get Outdoors Nevada and the Nevada Outdoor Business Coalition and cited by Rosen.

Rosen agreed that more funding is needed to help recreation services rebound. 

“Our nation’s outdoor economy is still hurting and Congress, we have a role to play in helping rebuild it,” Rosen said at the hearing. “We must provide better funding for land management agencies and local communities so that they can better protect and maintain public lands and serve visitors to them. Without adequate staffing and resources, we won’t be able to continue enjoying the outdoors or have a healthy outdoor tourism future.”

Funds would help an industry that took it on the chin last year. Travel and tourism visitor volume and spending in Nevada both dropped by more than 50 percent in 2020, and employment in the sector fell by more than 24 percent, according to Robertson. He said the pandemic negatively affected guides and outfitters, campground and marina owners, outdoor recreation concessions and non-profit education organizations, among others. 

Outdoor tourism is a significant part of Nevada’s economy. In 2019, before the pandemic, it accounted for 60,000 jobs and 3.1 percent of the state's gross domestic product (GDP). That is a full percentage point more than the 2.1 percent national average, Robertson said.

The Silver State has a variety of major outdoor recreation destinations, including two national monuments, Gold Butte and Basin and Range. 

While there were losses in some areas, the pandemic did drive increases in other areas of the industry, spurred by people looking for relatively safer activities that did not have the risk of contagion carried by indoor activities.

According to Robertson, there was a 40 percent increase in 2020 in dispersed camping on general forest lands and a more than 70 percent increase in visits to wilderness areas. Dispersed camping is the term used for camping anywhere in a national forest outside of a designated campground.

But those increases put pressures on outdoor resources and highlighted the need for increased land management funds, Robertson said. 

“What it does is create resource impacts that are unfunded, basically,” Robertson said. “Those resources need to be managed to be maintained well in order to not be deteriorating.”

That dynamic at Lake Tahoe was also highlighted during the hearing. The alpine lake area typically gets three times more visitors than neighboring Yosemite National Park, despite being only a third of the size of Yosemite. 

“It was magnified,” Robertson said of the pandemic boost in visitation to Tahoe, adding that there were “detrimental effects on the environmental quality of lake clarity.” 

“There's a lot of positive associated with that growth, but there are some negative impacts as well, one of which is that the federal land management agencies for example, don't have enough funding to deal with that increased visitation,” Robertson continued. 

Robertson also said that federal investment and economic development in rural communities is another key factor in bringing back the outdoor recreation industry. 

One example he gave was the Environmental Protection Agency’s Recreation Economy for Rural Communities. The program, launched in 2019, provides economic development funding to help rural communities revitalize their economies through outdoor recreation.

Robertson hopes that the program gets expanded and augmented with other similar programs at the Department of Agriculture.

During the hearing, Robertson and other industry experts also made a case for more affordable housing and better broadband connectivity for those who work at the national parks and live in surrounding communities.

“It's becoming an intractable problem because, especially for state and federal land management agency staff, they're being priced out of the housing that's available near the work, right?” Robertson said. “That's a significant problem from a recruitment and retention standpoint.”

Rosen also asked whether a lack of daycare options, in addition to affordable housing, was a problem for attracting workers. Joe Henry, the executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism in Minnesota, said the two topics are among the biggest issues when it comes to finding workers. 

“If you have kids, it eliminates so many workers,” Henry said. “They go hand in hand, and they're both very big issues across our entire state.”

All of the panel’s witnesses also agreed that getting better broadband connectivity in rural areas, a top issue for Rosen, would benefit the outdoor tourism industry. 

“Those very rural places are oftentimes the gateways to the most beloved outdoor recreation destinations in the state,” Robertson said. “But in order for them to take advantage of the recreation and economic development opportunities, we really need to increase their connectivity.”

Last week, Rosen signed onto a letter with 19 other Senate Democrats calling on the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to share data with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in order to improve broadband connectivity.

“Millions of households remain unconnected either because broadband infrastructure has not been built to their homes or the price of broadband services is out of reach for them,” the letter said. “We need a collaborative, cross-government approach to address this gap.” 

Nevadans hold vigil following Supreme Court decision against a pathway to permanent residency for TPS holders, call for action from Congress

Immigration advocates, families and supporters gathered Thursday evening outside the federal courthouse in downtown Las Vegas, waving American flags and toting signs demanding legal residency for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders. 

This kind of activism is nothing new for those protected by TPS. They continually feel on the cusp of losing their right to live in the United States. So once again — after a recent Supreme Court decision — they gathered with their allies and urged President Joe Biden and Congress to create a pathway to permanent residency for TPS holders.

“Se ve, se siente, el pueblo está presente! Se ve, se escucha, estamos en la lucha! Ni COVID, ni el viento detiene el movimiento…” the group, organized by Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center, chanted in unison in Spanish, stating that they are present, they will be heard, they are in a battle and nothing will stop them, not even the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Demonstrators participate in a vigil in response to a Supreme Court ruling against individuals with Temporary Protected Status in front of the Lloyd D George Courthouse in Las Vegas on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

In a blow to TPS holders and advocates who have longed for a pathway to citizenship, the Supreme Court issued a ruling earlier this week that bars TPS holders from adjusting their immigration status to become lawful permanent residents, or obtain “green cards,” if they entered the country unlawfully. TPS holders for years have been seeking a more stable and permanent solution to their temporary status, which must be renewed every 18 months. 

The immigration status is granted to people from countries experiencing crises caused by natural disasters, war or poverty. TPS protects immigrants from deportation and grants them work authorization permits. Nevada is home to roughly 4,000 TPS holders and there are more than 400,000 TPS holders in the United States from a dozen countries, including El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Syria. 

The ruling leaves TPS holders who were not vetted and authorized to enter the country by an immigration officer out of options as a major deadline approaches in early October, when the protected status expires for beneficiaries from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan. Without TPS, beneficiaries will lose legal work authorization and be subject to deportation.

“No somos uno, no somos cien, 11 millones, cuéntenos bien!” the group in Las Vegas continued chanting Thursday evening, saying that the fight is not just for one or a hundred people, and not just for the hundreds of thousands of TPS holders in the United States  but for the 11 million undocumented immigrants seeking a path to citizenship. 

Immigration statuses such as TPS and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) do not include a route to legal permanent residency, nor citizenship, for beneficiaries. 

Immigrant advocates cite the deep ties TPS holders and other immigrant groups have in their communities, as workers, taxpayers and parents to U.S.-born children as the primary reasons they believe the federal government needs to come up with a more permanent solution.  

Demonstrators participate in a vigil in response to a Supreme Court ruling against individuals with Temporary Protected Status in front of the Lloyd D George Courthouse in Las Vegas on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

According to the Pew Research Center, more than 70 percent of immigrants in the United States in 2018 had lived in the country for more than a decade. A 2017 report from the Legal Immigration Resource Center found that TPS holders contribute billions of dollars to the nation’s economy, and the Center for American Progress identified more than 130,000 TPS holders as essential workers during the pandemic. 

About 450,000 U.S. citizens live in a household with a TPS holder, and about 280,000 U.S.-born children under the age of 18 live with a parent protected by TPS. Mixed-status families are at risk of being separated by deportation, or being displaced to a country they are not familiar with and where they do not have family or work ties. 

The ruling shields TPS holders who entered the country in a legal manner, though. For example, if current TPS holders entered the United States with a visa, overstayed the term of the visa and were later granted TPS, they can apply to become lawful permanent residents.

Demonstrators participate in a vigil in response to a Supreme Court ruling against individuals with Temporary Protected Status in front of the Lloyd D George Courthouse in Las Vegas on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Nevada Tepesianos (TPS holders) continue their years-long fight 

Walter Martinez, a TPS holder from El Salvador and Las Vegas resident, has been in the United States for more than 20 years. His mother immigrated first to escape poverty, and after graduating high school, he begged her to let him join her for better opportunities. Shortly after he arrived, he was granted TPS. 

“It gave me the opportunity to have a real ID. I was able to open a bank account, learn how to drive, and honestly I felt like I was no longer in the shadows,” Martinez said in Spanish at the vigil on Thursday. “I’ve been here for over 20 years. We have the right to a permanent residency because we understand that the program is temporary, but we have contributed to the economy and our community for so long. Most of us come to contribute to this country.”

Walter Martinez speaks during a vigil in response to a Supreme Court ruling against individuals with Temporary Protected Status in front of the Lloyd D George Courthouse in Las Vegas on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

Martinez said he had hoped TPS would lead him to the opportunity to become a legal permanent resident, but years have passed as he continues to wait for immigration reform. 

“I think that’s what happened to many of us — we thought there was going to be an immigration reform, and it didn’t happen,” he said. “The next steps are really to just keep fighting.”

And that is the message the group aimed to send Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen and President Joe Biden on Thursday — that they won’t give up and expect them to stand alongside all 11 million. 

An attendee at the vigil, whom The Nevada Independent is not naming because of the vulnerable nature of her immigration status, stood in solidarity with TPS holders on Thursday evening. Her husband was deported three years ago, leaving her the sole breadwinner for their three children. She has established roots in the United States over the past two decades, paying taxes, and working and raising her children, two of whom are American citizens. 

While not a TPS holder herself, the woman said she fights the same battle for a path to permanent residency for herself and her oldest son, who is a DACA recipient.  

“We work so hard, but we’re in the shadows, we get paid low wages, we don’t have a contract — sometimes even enduring abuse from our bosses,” she said in Spanish. “It’s not easy for us, especially with the uncertainty if the next day we’ll still be allowed to be here – our kids, our lives are here. Having to go back to our countries would be like starting from zero.”

She recalled how deeply her children were affected by their father being deported. No one wanted to talk or leave their bedrooms, she said. And one of her children recently admitted to experiencing a depressive episode at the time. 

“Seeing their pain in their eyes is very difficult as a mom, seeing them so hurt that the family has been separated. That’s what hurts most, seeing our children go through that,” she said.    

After her husband was deported, she couldn’t make ends meet and had to move into a bedroom in a friend’s home with her two younger children. She feared that her daughter wouldn’t graduate high school because of the living situation, compounded by stress and the effects of the pandemic. But she said their hard work paid off, as she was able to purchase a mobile home after saving her money. Her daughter graduated last week.  

“When you come to this country, you come with the dream that you’re going to support your family, that your children are going to have a better life, that they won’t lack anything,” she said. “We all have similar fears – being separated from our children, being in a different country and not seeing them grow and succeed. That’s the biggest fear.”    

A ‘provisional situation’ 

Michael Kagan, director of the UNLV Immigration Clinic, highlighted the fragile reality TPS holders continue to face, typically dependent on changes within presidential administrations. 

“Presidents come and go and for people to have their lives and their futures depend entirely on who won the last election is a terrible way for people to live,” he said, “and, in this case, we're talking about people who have been here for longer than me. I've been [in Nevada] since 2011.”

While Nevada immigrants rooted for Biden during last year’s election, in the hopes his administration would be more immigrant-friendly than the Trump administration, they also sensed that immigration reform was a long shot. 

The Biden administration may not be wholly responsible for delivering the ruling on TPS, but Kagan said it is not innocent either. 

“The Biden administration asked for it. They could have pulled this case back and avoided this decision, but they pushed ahead with it. So that was a real disappointment to many of us. The Biden administration's hands are not clean on this decision,” he said.

Kagan said TPS holders and supporters have to be hopeful the administration will — at the very least — renew the protected status before October, although that is not the ultimate solution TPS holders and supporters desire. 

“But even if that happens, the problem is that it will only be an 18-month reprieve,” he said. “Unless Congress were to pass a new law, this situation will just continue interminably over and over again every 18 months.” 

The American Dream Act recently cleared the House of Representatives on a 228-197 vote, with nine Republicans voting in support. The measure would allow TPS holders to become lawful permanent residents as long as they meet certain requirements, such as living in the United States for at least three years (from the bill’s adoption) and paying a fee. The bill is limited to TPS holders who were granted the protected status on or prior to Jan. 17, 2017, and does not include the most recent designations for immigrants from Venezuela or Burma. 

But the measure faces an uncertain future in the Senate, with Democrats and Republicans deadlocked. For the bill to succeed in the Senate, it would require support from all Democratic senators and at least 10 Republican senators to overcome the filibuster rule requiring 60 votes.

Demonstrators participate in a vigil in response to a Supreme Court ruling against individuals with Temporary Protected Status in front of the Lloyd D George Courthouse in Las Vegas on Thursday, June 10, 2021. The sign reads "residency via reconciliation" in Spanish. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

With that in mind, Nevada TPS holders are calling for Congress and the Biden administration to pass the measure through budget reconciliation, a process that allows legislation to pass with 50 votes, plus a vote from Vice President Kamala Harris. 

With their fate in the hands of the federal government, TPS holders are turning to their only option — to continue speaking out and urging elected officials to stand by them. Kagan said this is an opportunity for other community members to stand in solidarity with TPS holders to effect real change. 

“If no laws are passed, then the Biden administration will just be a period of ceasefire in a longer war,” he said. “Then you could have another president in January 2025, who returns to what Trump was doing, and people's entire lives and families will be directly threatened again.”

Indy DC Download: Senate passes tech innovation bill while House takes steps on infrastructure

The Senate approved legislation to spur technological innovation as a House panel approved $547 billion transportation infrastructure legislation that included $54.5 million requested by Nevada's House members for 11 state projects.  

The vote on the Senate innovation bill, also designed to give the U.S. tech industry a leg up against China, came just before Senate Republicans blocked the chamber from taking up Democratic legislation to address the gender pay gap. The motion to proceed to the Paycheck Fairness Act failed 49 to 50; it needed 60 votes to advance. 

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) believes that fixing gender pay equity should be a no-brainer.

“Women make up half of the population,” Rosen said, adding that it’s “fundamental” and essentially a “nonpartisan issue.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) argued that the cause of the pay equity gap is the result of choices made by women, who tend to be the primary caregivers in households. He said the Democratic bill would reduce flexibility, enforce rigid pay scale and open employers up to lawsuits, making it harder for women to be hired. 

Lee called for a Senate vote on a GOP measure, the Working Families Flexibility Act, which would change federal labor law to allow private-sector businesses to offer workers paid time off instead of overtime pay. 

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) objected, arguing that Lee's bill would not guarantee workers could actually use the time earned and that employers would have a month to pay workers if their use of the time off is denied. 

While the House did not hold any roll call votes, the chamber remotely conducted a slew of committee business, including the transportation bill markup.  

Infrastructure

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the infrastructure measure, known as the Invest in America Act, on a 38 to 26 vote after a 19-hour markup session. Only two Republicans on the panel voted for the bill.

The committee’s passage of the legislation begins the House process of passing President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Jobs Plan. Other committees, including the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax policy in the House, must still approve its portion of the package. Rep. Steven Horsford is a member of the tax committee, and Rep. Dina Titus sits on the transportation panel.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing to pass a broad infrastructure package by the July 4th recess. Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), have said Biden's plan spends too much. They also oppose a provision to raise the corporate tax rate to cover the bill's cost.

A group of GOP Senators, led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), broke off talks with Biden last week without reaching a deal.

But a second group of Senate Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), is negotiating with a group of Democrats to craft a bipartisan infrastructure bill. Collins said last week that the group has a tentative deal that would provide roughly $1.2 trillion with half of that redirected to previously appropriated spending and the rest to new funding. Details still need to be worked out with the White House.

The committee-passed infrastructure bill would provide $547 billion over five years, of which $343 would go to roads and bridges, including $4 billion for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Transit would receive $109 billion, and passenger and freight rail would get $95 billion.

The committee bill included all transportation projects requested by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), Titus and Horsford. Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) did not ask for funding for any transportation projects.

Amodei sought five transportation projects totaling $21 million, including $6 million for the Arlington Ave. bridge over the Truckee River in Reno. That bridge was among a list of 24 in his district deemed to be in poor condition by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s (ARTBA) most recent “Bridge Report.”

Titus requested $20 million for four projects, including $7 million for the Charleston Boulevard underpass in Las Vegas, which is prone to flooding.

“These federal resources will make it easier for Las Vegans and our visitors to get around town,” Titus said in a release.

Horsford asked for $13.5 million for two projects. Most of the funding—$12 million—was for retrofitting street lights in North Las Vegas with energy-efficient LED bulbs. 

Innovation

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Rosen on Tuesday praised Senate passage, on a 68 to 32 vote, of the United States Innovation and Competition Act, which would provide about $200 billion over five years for technology research in order to better compete with China.

Both noted that Nevada had increased its tech industry footprint, including constructing an Apple data center in downtown Reno and the growing Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center (TRIC) in Storey County. TRIC is home to the Tesla Gigafactory and a Switch data center, among other firms.

“Nevada’s technology industry provides thousands of good-paying jobs and will help position our state for a bright future, but we have to make sure our state and nation are prepared to compete in our international economy,” Cortez Masto said adding that bill “will help our state attract additional industries, create more jobs, and boost our economic competitiveness on the world stage.”

The bill includes provisions that Cortez Masto helped secure, including one to beef up protections for research conducted on U.S. soil from international espionage and another to enhance protections for intellectual property. 

Rosen, who serves on the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the bill, also helped secure provisions in the bill. One would direct the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support rural science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and workforce development through grants for teaching STEM in rural schools. She also helped draft and include language to provide grants for worker education, training, development and entrepreneurship for advanced manufacturing and reauthorizing a program that allows the NSF to work with community colleges. 

Bills

The Senate approved, by unanimous consent, a bill championed by Cortez Masto that would keep private the contents of peer support and peer counseling provided to law enforcement officers. The measure would also require the Department of Justice to develop best practices and professional standards for peer support counseling programs.

“Giving law enforcement officers across Nevada access to quality and confidential mental health counseling services will save lives, reduce the stigma of seeking help, and lead to better policing,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.

Rosen, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee’s tourism subcommittee, and Cortez Masto also last week introduced separate legislation to help revitalize the tourism industry.

Rosen's bill, Travel Optimization by Updating and Revitalizing Infrastructure to Support Mobilization Act, would update the National Travel and Tourism Infrastructure Strategic Plan with immediate-term and long-term strategies. Those strategies would guide the Department of Transportation (DOT) and other agencies on infrastructure investments to revive the travel and tourism industries in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“By making these additional investments, we can help American travel and tourism get back to creating jobs, drive economic growth, and allow visitors to see and take part in the unique and worthwhile experiences that our communities and our states have to offer,” Rosen said in a statement.

The National Travel and Tourism Infrastructure Strategic Plan was established under the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act. The plan, which includes policy recommendations intended to aid the industry, was developed by the DOT in consultation with the National Advisory Committee on Travel and Tourism, state departments of transportation, and other appropriate public and private transportation stakeholders.

DOT published the National Travel and Tourism Infrastructure Strategic Plan in January 2021. The plan is designed to inform policy and investment until 2024. But the plan does not fully consider the fallout from the pandemic because the pandemic and its impacts are still unfolding, Rosen's office said.

The TOURISM Act, which Cortez Masto cosponsored, is endorsed by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority, the Vegas Chamber, the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce, Henderson Chamber of Commerce and the Urban Chamber of Commerce Las Vegas, Rosen's office said.

Cortez Masto also introduced, with a group of four other senators, the Visit America Act to create an assistant secretary position within the Department of Commerce. The secretary would be focused on bolstering America’s travel and tourism industry and coordinating a strategy across federal agencies by establishing annual goals and recommendations.

The bill would “make sure our government is doing everything it can to revitalize our country’s tourism and travel industry in the wake of the pandemic,” Cortez Masto said.

Cortez Masto also reintroduced legislation that would address a shortage of teachers certified to teach the nation’s 5 million students in public schools—or one in ten students—who are English learners (EL).

“There's 32 states that have a shortage of teachers for EL students,” Cortez Masto told The Nevada Independent last week. “That's a lot of states. So this is an area we really have to focus on putting the resources into building that capacity.”

The Reaching English Learners Act, which she introduced in the last legislative session, would create a grant program for colleges and universities to train future teachers to instruct ELs.  

Hearings

Last week, members of the delegation participated in several hearings, including Horsford, who pressed leaders at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over the agency focusing on low-income, minority communities.

“Americans with the highest incomes account for a disproportionately larger share of under-reported taxes, while at the same time, lower income communities, especially black and brown communities, are targeted more by the IRS,” Horsford said at a Ways and Means Committee hearing Thursday. “This is not fair, and it must end.”

Doug O'Donnell, IRS deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, who appeared before the committee, told Horsford that high-income taxpayers are statistically more likely to come under IRS scrutiny. But he agreed that the IRS could do better.

“It's been part of the discussion from the beginning that our coverage on the large multinationals, on the multi-tiered partnerships, on the high wealth is much lower than we think is appropriate,” O’Donnell said.

At a hearing on the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, Rosen discussed with Colonial Chief Executive Joseph Blount a bill she introduced in the last Congress to protect the electrical grid.

Blount told Rosen that her bill, the Cyber Sense Act, could help the pipeline industry.

“I think that’s a great program for electric utilities, and I think that would help our side of the business be more secure and less susceptible to any threats is a great idea,” Blount said.

Rosen's bill would create a voluntary program at the Department of Energy (DOE) to test the cybersecurity of products and technologies intended for use in the nation's bulk-power system, which provides the electricity that supports national defense, emergency services and critical infrastructure. It would also establish a testing process for the products and a reporting process of cybersecurity vulnerabilities, and require DOE to keep a related database on the products.

Miscellany

Rosen last week said she would be willing to vote to get rid of the filibuster to protect “our fundamental rights as Americans.

Her comments came after a Washington Post profile published Wednesday, in which Rosen said she backed reforming the filibuster. Rosen, who is proud of her efforts to work across the aisle with her GOP colleagues, had previously signaled that she would be reluctant, if not unwilling, to vote to get rid of the rule requiring 60 votes to end debate and advance most legislation in the Senate.

“That interview actually happened several weeks ago,” Rosen said Thursday when asked about her comment and the article.

“And so I wanted to make it clear that I’m going to protect democracy at all costs,” Rosen said. 

Her comment comes as the Senate is expected to vote at the end of the month on the For the People Act, far-reaching voting rights, election and campaign reform legislation. Republicans, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), oppose the bill for, among other things, what they say amounts to a federal takeover of elections from states and localities. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) also opposes the bill for being too partisan, he said in a recent op-ed. Manchin has also been a vocal advocate of the filibuster, and has said he would not vote to get rid of the rule. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has made a similar vow, which—given the 50-50 party split in the Senate—dooms any effort to ditch the filibuster unless she and Manchin have a change of heart. 

Their positions contrast with Rosen’s, who sees voting rights as an issue worthy of axing the filibuster.  

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.2037 – A bill to amend title XVIII to strengthen ambulance services furnished under part B of the Medicare program.

S.1963 – A bill to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to direct the Secretary of Education to award institutions of higher education grants for teaching English learners.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2015 – A bill to amend the FAST Act to require an update to the national travel and tourism infrastructure strategic plan, and for other purposes.

S.2014 – A bill to permit legally married same-sex couples to amend their filing status for tax returns outside the statute of limitations.

S.2008 – A bill to strengthen the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

S.1979 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to expand and modify the credit for increasing research activities, and for other purposes.

S.1978 – A bill to prohibit the use of funds for the 2026 World Cup unless the United States Soccer Federation provides equitable pay to the members of the United States Women's National Team and the United States Men's National Team.

S.1975 – A bill to protect a person's ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider's ability to provide abortion services.

S.1964 – A bill to amend the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act of 1996 to provide for the establishment of a Ski Area Fee Retention Account, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.2015 – A bill to amend the FAST Act to require an update to the national travel and tourism infrastructure strategic plan, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.2014 – A bill to permit legally married same-sex couples to amend their filing status for tax returns outside the statute of limitations.

S.2013 – A bill to provide for the coverage of medically necessary food and vitamins and individual amino acids for digestive and inherited metabolic disorder under Federal health programs and private health insurance, to ensure State and Federal protection for existing coverage, and for other purposes.

S.2012 – A bill to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to include certain communities, and for other purposes.

S.1996 – A bill to protect human rights and enhance opportunities for LGBTQI people around the world, and for other purposes.

S.1975 – A bill to protect a person's ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider's ability to provide abortion services.

S.1964 – A bill to amend the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act of 1996 to provide for the establishment of a Ski Area Fee Retention Account, and for other purposes.

S.1864 – A bill to amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to require a section on reproductive rights in the Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, and for other purposes.

S.1856 – A bill to enhance the security operations of the Transportation Security Administration and stability of the transportation security workforce by applying the personnel system under title 5, United States Code, to employees of the Transportation Security Administration, and for other purposes.

S.1848 – A bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), and marital status in the administration and provision of child welfare services, to improve safety, well-being, and permanency for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning foster youth, and for other purposes.

S.1810 – A bill to provide incentives to physicians to practice in rural and medically underserved communities, and for other purposes.

S.1795 – A bill to address mental health issues for youth, particularly youth of color, and for other purposes.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 3800 – To protect human rights and enhance opportunities for LGBTQI people around the world, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3799 – To direct the Secretary of the Treasury to develop and administer a national incentive program to provide prizes for qualified vaccinated individuals.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3755 – To protect a person's ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider's ability to provide abortion services.

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3779 – To amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to direct the Secretary of Education to award institutions of higher education grants for teaching English learners.

REP. SUSIE LEE

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3755 – To protect a person's ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider's ability to provide abortion services.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3800 – To protect human rights and enhance opportunities for LGBTQI people around the world, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3755 – To protect a person's ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider's ability to provide abortion services.

Indy DC Download: Senate GOP blocks Jan. 6 commission, chamber pauses work on tech innovation bill

Senate Republicans killed legislation to establish an independent commission to investigate the causes of the Jan. 6 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol after they struck a deal with Senate Democrats to finish consideration of a technology innovation measure after the Memorial Day recess.

Democrats in Nevada’s congressional delegation had strong words for Republicans who opposed the commission.

“The only reason to oppose an independent fact-finding commission is if you are afraid of the facts,” Rep. Dina Titus (R-NV) said. “This is a disgrace to our democracy.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for urging his fellow Republicans to oppose it.

“The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was a truly painful day,” Cortez Masto said. “Why is Mitch McConnell blocking a bipartisan commission to investigate what happened? The brave law enforcement officers who defended us and the Capitol deserve so much better.”

The vote on the commission came after the Senate voted on a series of amendments to the United States Innovation and Competition Act, which would provide about $250 billion for technology research that will help the nation better compete with China. 

While no votes were held in the House, members participated remotely in hearings, including Titus, who took part in a hearing on Russia and how the nation sees climate change as a geopolitical advantage. 

1/6 Commission

The Senate voted 54 to 35 to open debate on the measure to establish the commission, but 60 votes were needed to overcome a filibuster. All Democrats that were present voted for the measure. Six Republicans joined with them, short of the 10 needed given the current 50-50 party split in the chamber.

McConnell said he opposed the commission because he believes that it is politically motivated and is not needed given the other investigations underway in Congress and the Department of Justice.

“I do not believe the additional, extraneous “commission” that Democratic leaders want would uncover crucial new facts or promote healing,” McConnell said Thursday on the Senate floor. “Frankly, I do not believe it is even designed to.”

After voting, Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) said part of the rationale for the commission is to learn lessons and improve security at the Capitol complex, which is a symbol of freedom around the world.

“It shouldn't be political because this is about the integrity and the safety of our Capitol,” Rosen said. “The world is watching this bill and the United States Congress, it stands for something.”

Rosen said she felt for Gladys Sicknick, the mother of the late U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who visited with 16 GOP senators Thursday to urge them to support the bill. Sicknick suffered two strokes a day after the riot, though District of Columbia authorities said he died of natural causes. 

“I can't imagine being a mother; the pain and the strength it took to come and look people in the eye and say, ‘Please honor my son so something like this doesn't happen again,” Rosen continued.

Cortez Masto said that the defeat of the measure does not honor the Capitol Police.

"It's disappointing," Cortez Masto said. "We were all here on Jan. 6. We should be supporting, not only upholding the rule of law and uncovering through an appropriately independent investigation, not only what happened but how we prevent it.

The bill would “ensure that our Capitol Police, who stand guard for us every single day... have the resources and the support they need to ensure that they can also do their job and that we respect what they're doing,” Cortez Masto continued.

The House may still form a select committee, a special-purpose panel, that could investigate the insurrection. But it's unlikely that Republicans would participate and then would question its impartiality. 

Innovation

The Senate is poised to approve the United States Innovation and Competition Act when it returns from the Memorial Day recess the week of June 7. The package includes about $190 billion for various provisions to strengthen domestic technology markets to better compete globally, including $81 billion for the National Science Foundation over five years.

The legislation includes $16.9 billion for the Department of Energy for research and development and energy-related supply chains in key technology areas. NASA would get $10 billion in connection with the Artemis program that plans to land the first woman on the moon.

The bill would also provide $49.5 billion over five years to help address the shortage of semiconductors, which are now in so many products that demand has outstripped supply.

Rosen spoke highly of the bill, which has bipartisan support.

“It puts investment in basic research, in public private partnerships, in things that we need to do to be competitive,” Rosen said. She drew an analogy to the Global Positioning System, which was slowly built up by launching a series of satellites over decades for military use. 

“That was developed over time,” Rosen said. “Now who among us doesn't have Google Maps. So that research, done years and years prior, was really able to be put to use. And so those are the kinds of things we have to think about. And that's what a lot of this basic kind of research does.”

Elko Cemetery

Cortez Masto cheered an announcement by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that the agency has selected a site for a national veterans cemetery in Elko.

“Elko’s veterans and community leaders have been waiting for this day for almost 10 years,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “The approval of this cemetery has been a longtime priority of mine, and I can’t wait to see construction begin on a site that will finally allow Elko to establish this much-needed veterans cemetery for the region.”

The VA plans to acquire 15 acres from the city to construct the cemetery. The initial construction will consist of five acres of burial ground, with the intent to hold 10 additional acres in reserve for veterans in the future. It will serve more than 4,000 veterans and be the largest cemetery ever established under the VA's Rural Initiative. 

Elko is one of eight places chosen by the VA to build national cemeteries under the initiative. The closest veterans cemetery currently available for Elko regional veterans and their families is over 200 miles away in either Reno or Salt Lake City.

Gil Hernandez, commander of Elko’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2350 and member of the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery Advisory Committee, also praised the announcement.

“This cemetery means so much to our veteran population and their families, thanks to her advocacy with the VA we are now able to complete a new, nationally recognized burial ground for the men and women who have served our nation in uniform,” Hernandez said.

Miscellany

At a hearing on Russia, Titus asked experts whether the U.S. could work with the Vladimir Putin-led state on climate change. She raised, for example, whether Russia could be held accountable along with nations that joined the Paris Climate Accord.

Yuval Weber, who teaches at Texas A&M, said that Russia views climate change as geopolitically beneficial.

“It’s better growing seasons inside of Russia, which is a cold country,” Weber said. “It’s greater access to the mineral resources in the Arctic itself and if the Arctic becomes a navigable zone, well then they can militarize it and make it something which they are a founding member of...something to negotiate with the United States and others, akin to nuclear weapons. So they are actually all in on climate change being a good thing.”

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) signed onto a letter, with more than 100 others House members urging Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to provide more funding to the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

RRF,  which provides grants to restaurants hurt by the pandemic, received more than 362,000 applications that requested about $75 billion in funding, nearly tripling the initial $26.8 billion Congress provided by Congress.

“We urge you to work together with House Small Business Committee leadership and the SBA to bring a bill to the floor that would allocate funds so every eligible applicant can receive assistance,” the letter said. “Our economy is still emerging from the immense damage of the COVID-19 crisis and our hardest hit small businesses, such as restaurants, bars, and food trucks, are still navigating the impacts of over a year of lockdown orders and limits to capacity among other health requirements.”

Titus and Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) were also signatories.

Horsford addressed the Legislature last week and highlighted the $4 billion the state received from the American Rescue Plan. He also touted 100 percent coverage of COBRA health insurance premiums for unemployed or furloughed workers and increased benefits under the law's child tax credit provision.

“The American Rescue Plan allocates around $4 billion to help Nevada’s state, county, and local governments get back on track,” Horsford said.

He also pointed to bills he hopes to help enact this legislative session. These include the Hospitality and Commerce Job Recovery Act, which would provide a series of hospitality and tourism industry tax breaks. 

The measure includes a new tax credit that would let taxpayers write off the cost of attending or hosting a convention, business meeting or trade show between 2022 and 2024. It would also create a credit to encourage middle-class travel. The credit would be worth 50 percent of qualified travel expenses up to a maximum of $1,500 per household plus $500 for each qualifying child.

Horsford wants to pass the SAFE Banking Act, which would give the marijuana industry access to banks and financial services. He also backs a bill to remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act and expunge previous marijuana convictions. He is working to pass police reform legislation, a bill to protect about 2 million acres of public lands in Southern Nevada and immigration reform.

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.1928 – A bill to amend the National and Community Service Act of 1990 to establish a national climate service corps to help communities withstand and respond to changes in the Earth's climate with respect to natural disasters, and for other purposes.

S.1913 – A bill to modify the penalties for violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1993.

S.1902 – A bill to empower communities to establish a continuum of care for individuals experiencing mental or behavioral health crisis, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.1947 – A bill to authorize the position of Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Travel and Tourism, to statutorily establish the United States Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, and for other purposes.

S.1942 – A bill to standardize the designation of National Heritage Areas, and for other purposes.

S.1924 – A bill to direct the President to enforce the intellectual property provisions of the Economic and Trade Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of China, and for other purposes.

S.1918 – A bill to support the reuse and recycling of batteries and critical minerals, and for other purposes.

S.1912 – A bill to clarify the rights of certain persons who are held or detained at a port of entry or at any facility overseen by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

S.1901 – A bill to amend the Act of June 18, 1934, to reaffirm the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for Indian Tribes, and for other purposes.

S.1900 – A bill to amend the Trade Act of 1974 to modify the eligibility requirements for the Generalized System of Preferences to strengthen worker protections and to ensure that beneficiary developing countries afford equal rights and protection under the law, regardless of gender, and for other purposes.

S.1891 – A bill to transfer and limit Executive Branch authority to suspend or restrict the entry of a class of aliens.

S.1885 – A bill to provide funds to assess the availability, accelerate the deployment, and improve the sustainability of advanced communications services and communications infrastructure in rural America, and for other purposes.

S.1859 – A bill to amend title 37, United States Code, to require the Secretary concerned to pay a member in the reserve component of an Armed Force a special bonus or incentive pay in the same amount as a member in the regular component of that Armed Force.

S.1856 – A bill to enhance the security operations of the Transportation Security Administration and stability of the transportation security workforce by applying the personnel system under title 5, United States Code, to employees of the Transportation Security Administration, and for other purposes.

S.1848 – A bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), and marital status in the administration and provision of child welfare services, to improve safety, well-being, and permanency for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning foster youth, and for other purposes.

S.1841 – A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to revise and extend projects relating to children and to provide access to school-based comprehensive mental health programs.

S.1819 – A bill to support State, Tribal, and local efforts to remove access to firearms from individuals who are a danger to themselves or others pursuant to court orders for this purpose.

S.1802 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to expand and modify employer educational assistance programs, and for other purposes.

S.1795 – A bill to address mental health issues for youth, particularly youth of color, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.1884 – A bill to ensure that fixed broadband internet access service assisted by any Federal broadband support program meets a minimum level of service.

S.1881 – A bill to reauthorize and improve a grant program to assist institutions of higher education in establishing, maintaining, improving, and operating Student Veteran Centers.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.1943 – A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to improve access to, and utilization of, bone mass measurement benefits under part B of the Medicare program by establishing a minimum payment amount under such part for bone mass measurement.

S.1942 – A bill to standardize the designation of National Heritage Areas, and for other purposes.

S.1891 – A bill to transfer and limit Executive Branch authority to suspend or restrict the entry of a class of aliens.

S.1868 – A bill to amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act to require that equitable distribution of assistance include equitable distribution to Indian Tribes and Tribal organizations, to increase amounts reserved for allotment to Indian Tribes and Tribal organizations under certain circumstances, and to reserve amounts for migrant programs under certain circumstances, and to provide for a Government Accountability Office report on child abuse and neglect in American Indian Tribal communities.

S.1864 – A bill to amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to require a section on reproductive rights in the Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, and for other purposes.

S.1856 – A bill to enhance the security operations of the Transportation Security Administration and stability of the transportation security workforce by applying the personnel system under title 5, United States Code, to employees of the Transportation Security Administration, and for other purposes.

S.1848 – A bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), and marital status in the administration and provision of child welfare services, to improve safety, well-being, and permanency for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning foster youth, and for other purposes.

S.1810 – A bill to provide incentives to physicians to practice in rural and medically underserved communities, and for other purposes.

S.1795 – A bill to address mental health issues for youth, particularly youth of color, and for other purposes.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 3547 – To amend title 23, United States Code, to encourage widespread and proper use of child safety seats, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3552 – To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide that floor plan financing includes the financing of certain trailers and campers.

H.R. 3485 – To impose sanctions on foreign persons responsible for violations of internationally recognized human rights against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) individuals, and for other purposes.

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3537 – To direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to support research on, and expanded access to, investigational drugs for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and for other purposes.

Indy DC Download: House approves independent commission to investigate Capitol riot, but Senate GOP skeptical

East front of the U.S. Capitol.

The House approved legislation to create an independent commission to investigate the causes of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building and to provide $1.9 billion to beef up security in and around the Capitol campus.

Most Republicans, including Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), balked at supporting the bill. They raised concerns that it could be used to generate campaign fodder against GOP candidates for the next election. They also said it could further politicize the reckoning of the Jan. 6 effort by supporters of former President Donald Trump to stop the certification of the results of the 2020 presidential election.

But Democratic leaders held out hope that enough Senate Republicans would support the measure, despite all signs pointing to its likely defeat. 

No GOP members backed the Capitol security measure. The bill also left Democratic leaders scrambling after six progressive members, including liberal stalwarts Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), refused to vote for the bill, citing concerns that it would provide $43.9 million to the U.S. Capitol Police without giving details on how the funds would be spent. That's similar to the rationale Amodei gave for opposing the bill, which passed 213 to 212.

Amodei bucked GOP leadership, though, by voting for a resolution condemning the March shooting in Atlanta that left eight people dead, including six who were Asian.

The House votes came as the Senate began considering the Endless Frontier Act. Designed to help the nation compete with China on the global stage, it would provide $100 billion over five years to the National Science Foundation (NSF) for research, commercialization and innovation of technology of geostrategic importance.

Commission unlikely

The House approved the Jan. 6 commission bill 252 to 175, with 35 Republicans joining all Democrats. The panel is modeled on the commission created to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The bill was negotiated by House Democrats and Republicans, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's blessing. But last week, McCarthy withdrew his support and urged his GOP colleagues to do the same. Part of his calculation includes the opposition to the commission by Trump. The former president generally remains popular with Republican voters, and McCarthy hopes he will work to help the GOP win back the majority. 

The vote also comes as Republicans have downplayed the January insurrection. Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) said during a hearing recently that “if you didn't know that the footage was from Jan. 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.” Pictures later emerged showing Clyde helping to barricade the door to the House chamber as rioters tried to push their way in. 

Similar to McCarthy, Amodei said he opposed the commission because it would be a platform to further politicize the Jan. 6 issue, the panel would not be required to investigate left-wing violence and the panel would be duplicative and possibly even interfere with other ongoing investigations.   

“Unfortunately, just like many issues these days, this tragedy has become hyper politicized,” Amodei said in a statement. “Between task forces, commissions, prosecutors, and committees, quite frankly, I’ve grown incredibly weary of Congress’s addiction to “special” this and “special” that.”

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), who serves on the House Homeland Security Committee, argued that the bill is designed to take the politics out of the issue and that the GOP is just making excuses because “they don’t want McCarthy to testify” before the panel.

McCarthy, when asked, said he would testify.

The commission bill vote comes about a week after House Republicans voted to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) from the chairmanship of the Republican conference, the third-ranking post in House GOP leadership. Cheney has been an outspoken critic of Trump and the incendiary speech he gave on the day of the riot. 

Amodei said Cheney’s removal had to do with winning elections and the need to keep Trump on board. 

Senate Republicans have made a similar calculation about the commission. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came out against the bill Wednesday after initially withholding judgment.

He called the proposal "slanted and unbalanced." McConnell noted that between law enforcement and congressional investigations, "there is, there have been and there will continue to be no shortage of robust investigations by two separate branches of the federal government."

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the Senate minority whip, said it could be a political liability.

“I think, a lot of our members—and I think this is true of a lot of House Republicans—want to be moving forward and not looking backward and anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 election, I think, is a day lost on being able to draw contrast between us and the Democrats' very radical left wing agenda."

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) said that she supports the formation of the commission to “make sure the American public has an understanding of not only what occurred and what they saw, but that people are going to be held accountable for it.” 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he plans to hold a vote on the House bill as soon as next week.  Ten Republicans would need to vote with all Democrats to overcome a filibuster and advance the bill.

Capitol security 

Amodei also stuck with his GOP colleagues on opposing the $1.9 billion Capitol security spending bill, which include $520.9 million for unanticipated pay and operations costs for the National Guard deployment at the capitol and region from over about five months and $43.9 million for the U.S. Capitol Police.

“This is an enormous amount of funding for legislation that contains very little specificity, which only further contributes to the sad culture of overcompensating on funds and undercompensating on details and oversight to ensure there’s actual value brought in,” Amodei said.

Omar echoed the sentiment.

“To be honest, we have not really been made to understand how the money will actually increase the safety,” the Minnesota Democrat told Roll Call.

All House Democrats voted for the measure except for six.

Omar, Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), also criticized the bill for providing more funds to police.

“A bill that pours $1.9 billion into increased police surveillance and force without addressing the underlying threats of organized and violent white supremacy, radicalization, and disinformation that led to this attack will not prevent it from happening again,” they said in a statement.

Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) of Michigan voted present. The bill passed by one vote. 

The measure could be held up in the Senate where Republicans, including Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, said Congress should tread carefully and gather more information.

“We should go about it methodically, make sure that what we’re doing is the right thing to do,” Shelby told reporters last week.

Atlanta murders

Amodei waved off his GOP leaders when he was one of 30 Republicans to side with all Democrats in favor of a resolution condemning the murders of eight in Atlanta in March. The legislation was approved 245 to 180.

Republican leaders whipped against the resolution, in part, because it included labeling the terms "Chinese virus", "Wuhan virus" and "kung flu" as anti-Asian. Those are terms Trump often used at his rallies. 

“It’s just descriptive, it’s not insulting by any stretch,” Rep Pat Fallon (R-TX), said of Wuhan virus, during debate on the House floor.

Amodei said the resolution did not strike him as anti-Trump.

“I read it and it didn't look like yet another thing to go, ‘you know, Trump's a rotten bugger, even though he's gone,’” Amodei said. “It was just straight up supporting Asian-Americans.”

Miscellany

Cortez Masto, Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) all virtually addressed the Legislature last week, highlighting the passage of pandemic recovery legislation providing billions of dollars for the state. 

Cortez Masto cited the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, enacted in March 2020, which included funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that provided forgivable loans to small businesses to prevent layoffs and furloughs.

PPP loans “helped people like Juan Vasquez in Las Vegas,” Cortez Masto said. “His beloved restaurant, Juan's Flaming Fajitas, was able to stay open and keep its workers on the payroll, because my colleagues and I teamed up to help our economy bounce back.”

Rosen spoke about the recovery measures in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) enacted in March. Specifically, she mentioned the $4 billion for the state and local governments and a provision she championed with Cortez Masto that provides a subsidy that covers 100 percent of the cost of COBRA health insurance premiums for unemployed or furloughed workers.

“I'm here to tell you that we are at a turning point in this fight,” Rosen said. “And I'm here to say that hope and help are on the way.”

Lee pointed to provisions in the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, President Joe Biden’s proposal to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure that could help the state diversify its economy, which was hit so hard by the pandemic, in part, because it is so driven by hospitality and tourism.

“Nevada is of course already a leader in renewable energy with more than 33,000 Nevadans working in the field” Lee said. “And the American Jobs Plan would create even more good paying union jobs by extending and expanding tax credits for clean energy generation, carbon capture and more.”

Cortez Masto and Rosen wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra last week, lauding the administration for beginning to reverse a 2019 rule prohibiting medical facilities that receive Title X federal family planning funding from referring patients for abortion services. 

The rule also required advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) to provide pregnancy counseling. The senators said that change hurt access to family planning services in rural areas where registered nurses typically provided the care.  

“In some cases, APRNs visit clinics only once a month,” the letter said. “The rule thus severely limited the window of availability for counseling services, and diverted APRNs from performing more complicated services that they are uniquely qualified to deliver.” 

Rep. Steven Horsford participated in his first Armed Services Committee since recently joining the panel. The committee heard testimony from former Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), who appeared before the committee as chairman for the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service. Congress created the commission to evaluate the Selective Service System, which maintains a list of men from which to draw in case of a national emergency requiring rapid military expansion. The commission issued its report last year.

Horsford asked Heck about the commission recommendations to establish a Cabinet-level position that would advise the president on military, national and public service.

Heck said the advisor would be responsible for "addressing the national security and the critical skill needs of the nation" and would be able to work across agencies to provide an overarching approach to populate the nation's military effectively. 

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.1781 – A bill to require the Comptroller General of the United States to assess the quality and nutrition of food available at military installations for members of the Armed Forces.

S.1684 – A bill to strengthen the ability of the Federal Home Loan Bank system to provide critical financing to address the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 and to meet the short- and long-term housing and community economic development needs of low-income communities, including Tribal communities, and for other purposes.

S.1674 – A bill to amend the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 to authorize use of amounts under the Troubled Assets Relief Program to be used for activities under the Housing Trust Fund, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.1708 – A bill to exempt children of certain Filipino World War II veterans from the numerical limitations on immigrant visas, and for other purposes.

S.1704 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to permanently extend the exemption for telehealth services from certain high deductible health plan rules.

S.1701 – A bill to amend title 13, United States Code, to require the Secretary of Commerce to provide advance notice to Congress before changing any questions on the decennial census, and for other purposes.

S.1681 – A bill to amend title 49, United States Code, to promote transportation career opportunities and improve diversity in the workforce.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.1690 – A bill to provide direct appropriations for processing applications for the paycheck protection program, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.1720 – A bill to provide stability to and enhance the services of the United States Postal Service, and for other purposes.

S.1708 – A bill to exempt children of certain Filipino World War II veterans from the numerical limitations on immigrant visas, and for other purposes.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3393 – To remove college cost as a barrier to every student having access to a well-prepared and diverse educator workforce, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3312 – To provide for the overall health and well-being of young people, including the promotion and attainment of lifelong sexual health and healthy relationships, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3283 – To repeal the joint resolution entitled "A joint resolution to promote peace and stability in the Middle East".

Cortez Masto and Titus push back on state party chair Whitmer’s statement on Israel

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) joined two other Nevada congressional Democrats in disavowing a statement issued by Nevada State Democratic Party chair Judith Whitmer criticizing Israel over its bombing of Gaza in response to rocket attacks by militant groups.

“The world cannot stand by as we witness atrocities and human rights violations being committed against the Palestinians,” Whitmer said last week

“Palestinians have a right to live in peace. No caveats,” Whitmer continued.

The comment drew criticism from Democrats in Nevada’s congressional delegation. 

“Foreign policy should be addressed by elected officials, not by state party figures,” Cortez Masto’s office said when asked about Whitmer’s statement. 

Titus voiced a similar sentiment when asked about the statement.

“Usually the party is there to support the delegation or the candidates, not to take an independent position,” Titus said.

Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) declined to comment. 

Their comments followed a strong response last week from Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV)  and Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV).

The state party did not immediately reply to requests for comment. 

Issued Friday, Whitmer’s Israel comments were criticized for being weighed too heavily in favor of the Palestinians, including by the Anti-Defamation League

“The ADL strongly condemns the inappropriate and completely one-sided statement made by the Nevada State Democratic Party Chair, Judith Whitmer,” the ADL said. “Israel has the right to defend itself against nearly 2000 rockets and missiles fired by Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza into Israeli cities and towns.”

Cortez Masto's comment comes as she is gearing up for what is expected to be a tough re-election fight. Former President Donald Trump narrowly lost the state—by a little more than two percentage points—to President Joe Biden in 2020. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the Senate GOP's campaign arm, sees Masto’s seat as a crucial opportunity to regain the majority in the evenly divided chamber. 

Whitmer was elected party chair in March, the leader of a group of Democratic Socialist candidates who took over the party's leadership. Their election led to the mass resignation of party staff. Whitmer backed progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for president over Biden in the nominating contest. 

The NRSC sees an opportunity with Whitmer's election to tie Cortez Masto to the Democratic Socialist leadership of the party.

In April, Cortez Masto sought to put some space between her and the party leadership while predicting election victories up and down the ticket. 

She declined to elaborate Wednesday beyond the statement provided by her office.

But Titus said that she was not surprised by Whitmer's action, noting that the new chair had made no secret of her progressive positions. 

“She'd been organizing that group in the party since Bernie lost, and maybe took some people by surprise that she was able to take over the party, but she didn't make any bones about the way she was going to push it left,” Titus said.

Titus also said that Democrats should be ready for the socialist attacks this cycle. She noted that North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee used the term “socialist” three times in his recent announcement that he’s running for governor as a Republican since switching parties last month.

She also said that the test of any party apparatus is its ability to raise money, enabling candidates to run strong get-out-the-vote operations that win races.

“One of the concerns is are they going to be able to raise money,” Titus said. “It takes money to do a ground game and keep the machine going.” 

“And so I think the tell of the tape will be if they do that,” Titus continued. “They did well in the first round. We'll see what happens next.” 

The party raised nearly $453,000 in March, including more than $370,000 from small-dollar donors, according to the party’s disclosure filed last month with the Federal Election Commission

All Democrats in the delegation sought to strike a balance between underscoring Israel's right to defend itself and signaling support for the Palestinians, condemning Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist group coordinating attacks on the Jewish state, and urging for a cessation of the conflict. 

Their comments come as progressive Democrats have called for Biden to take a stronger stance against Israel, which is conducting airstrikes that have killed civilians, and show more support for the Palestinians. 

“I think the United States needs to take responsibility for the violence that we are supporting,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez told reporters last week.

On Wednesday, Biden changed his tone after a fourth call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The President conveyed to the Prime Minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire,” the White House said. 

Party treasurer Howard Beckerman issued his resignation over Whitmer’s Israel statement in a letter dated Sunday. 

Airport boss, tourism officials say international travel key to Vegas rebound

The pandemic-driven absence of international flights to and from Las Vegas has removed one of the gaming industry’s most lucrative business segments, leading airport leaders, tourism officials and gaming insiders to push for the U.S. to reopen for travel from key destinations.

Clark County Director of Aviation Rosemary Vassiliadis told members of a Senate subcommittee at a hearing Tuesday that airline operators want to resume flights into McCarran International Airport – the ninth busiest airport in North America – but are thwarted by travel restrictions affecting “nonessential” leisure and convention visitors.

“These airlines ask us point blank, ‘What is the U.S. doing to reopen travel? When will our airline be able to resume bringing vacationers and conventioneers to Las Vegas?’” Vassiliadis said in testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion. The subcommittee is chaired by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV).

“Almost every day, I or members of my team hear from representatives of international air carriers expressing interest in quickly resuming service to Las Vegas,” Vassiliadis said.

Gaming industry insiders are asking the same questions.

Truist Securities gaming analyst Barry Jonas said that before COVID-19 disrupted the Strip, 14 percent of Las Vegas’ annual visitors came from international destinations.

“The resumption of international travel should be one of the key next legs for the Strip’s recovery,” Jonas said. “International visitors stay longer (and have) bigger gaming and non-gaming budgets.”

Vassiliadis suggested that the U.S. develop “a risk-based roadmap” that allows global travel to return through a more flexible approach, rather than keeping the blanket travel ban that was put into place by the White House in January.

She said the International Civil Aviation Organization, with support from the Federal Aviation Administration, has produced a manual in which global air routes could be restored, but also could be adjusted if COVID-19 surges on either end of the route.

“The EU is gradually deploying methods to reopen its members’ borders for vaccinated passengers, and the United Kingdom has embraced an approach similar to ICAO’s.” Vassiliadis said. “These actions have opened the door for U.K. residents to begin non-essential travel to select countries later this month.”

She noted, however, that the U.S. wasn’t on the list of cleared destinations, “creating a major hurdle toward reconnecting Las Vegas with its top overseas visitor market.”

From 11 down to one

In 2019, McCarran had nonstop service to and from 11 different countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, South Korea, China and Israel.

“Now, that number is down to one, with Mexico representing our lone international market currently in service,” Vassiliadis said. “Over the first four months of 2021, our international volume has amounted to less than 80,000 passengers.” 

In 2020, McCarran had 781,280 incoming and outgoing international passengers, a decline of 79.5 percent compared with more than 3.8 million international customers in 2019. Several Canadian air carriers had maintained routes to Las Vegas for a time, but service was halted when COVID-19 surged in Canada and the government closed its borders.

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Steve Hill said he supports the roadmap suggested by Vassiliadis. The resort industry is reopening and the first major trade show in more than a year – the World of Concrete – is scheduled for next month.

“We’re ready to get back and other countries are ready to get back,” Hill said. “Frankly, waiting for the whole world to get back is just not good for anybody involved.”

Diminished gaming revenues

The loss of business from Asia has diminished revenue streams for Strip resorts that offer high-end baccarat play. The game can tip the scales along the Las Vegas Strip during Chinese New Year in the January-February timeframe and large-scale events.

Jonas said Asian high-end table game play has historically been a “meaningful contributor” to Strip casinos, estimating it accounted for roughly 5 percent to 10 percent of MGM Resorts International’s total cash flow from its Las Vegas properties.   

UNLV gaming researcher and historian David G. Schwartz views baccarat as “important” to Nevada gaming and a “proxy for high-end Asian play.” Over the past decade, before the pandemic, baccarat averaged more than 10 percent of statewide gaming revenues annually.

Schwartz called the statistic “remarkable, given how small” the number of baccarat tables was compared to other table games, such as blackjack, craps and roulette.

Through March, baccarat revenues are down 45.6 percent compared to 2020, which recorded the game’s first sub-$1 billion revenue year since 2009. Revenues from baccarat hit an all-time high of almost $1.6 billion in 2013, a year that saw the state collect more $11.1 billion in gaming revenues.

“Pound for pound, baccarat tables generate far more revenue than other gaming positions,” Schwartz said. “For that to return we need to become a destination for international travelers, particularly from Asia.”

No to vaccine passports

Vassiliadis told the subcommittee that the U.S. government needs to lead the world in establishing ways to safely admit international travelers. But she stopped short of calling for a Digital Health Credential (DHC), which could be construed as a vaccine passport, for domestic travelers.

“We do need the government to set the parameters and criteria for accepting solutions that are already being implemented in other parts of the world,” Vassiliadis said. “To be clear, aviation industry members are not advocating for a DHC mandate.”

Hill agreed that “vaccinations are the key,” but that a vaccine passport was not the right strategy for domestic travel.

"But it could work with international markets,” Hill said.

Vassiliadis said the U.S. should be involved in “worldwide discussions” that would set guidelines or standards for the use of DHC in authenticating testing and vaccination status for international travelers.

“Establishing a harmonized approach for the implementation of these DHCs will allow the traveling public to understand the requirements for international travel and reduce the occurrence of fraudulent documentation,” Vassiliadis said.

Indy DC Download: The House approved debt collection and pregnant workers protection bills

Debt collectors would be barred from threatening to reduce the rank of military service members, and pregnant workers would see increased anti-discrimination protections under legislation approved by the House this week.

Votes on those bills came as the Senate remained focused on confirming President Joe Biden’s nominations, including Cynthia Marten to be deputy secretary of the Department of Education.

Marten had previously led the San Diego Unified School District since 2013.

Both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) voted for Marten, who was confirmed on a 54 to 44 vote.

Nevada’s House members also have posted lists of projects they have identified for potential funding under the revamped earmark process, allowing members to direct funding to specific projects in their states. The House delegation is seeking a total of $104 million for 33 projects, including $54.5 million in transportation-related earmarks. Not all are expected to be funded as House leaders ease back into the practice.  

Earmarks were banned beginning in 2011, when Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) first became House speaker following a few high-profile scandals, including the construction of a bridge in Alaska that was dubbed “the bridge to nowhere.” 

House votes

The House last week approved the Comprehensive Debt Collection Improvement Act on a 215 to 207 vote, with all but one House Democrat and no Republicans backing the bill.

Rep. Steve Horsford (D-NV) said the passage of the measure, which seeks to implement a series of consumer protections, comes at a time when debt collections have increased as a result of the pandemic. 

“This has disproportionately impacted low-income communities and communities of color in Nevada’s Fourth District,” Horsford said. “The Comprehensive Debt Collection Improvement Act will protect small and minority-owned businesses, students with loans, consumers with medical debts, and servicemembers by reinforcing their rights and holding debt collectors accountable.” 

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) dismissed the bill as a partisan exercise. 

“It looks like an agenda bill,” Amodei said, as opposed to really helping improve the debt collection process.

Among the reforms implemented by the bill are an end to the practice of collectors threatening to reduce a military servicemember’s rank, revoke security clearance or prosecute under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Other provisions would ban confessions of judgment, sometimes included in small business loan contracts, requiring a borrower to give up certain rights in court before obtaining a loan. The bill also would prohibit debt collectors from collecting medical debt for two years after the debt is incurred, and from contacting consumers by email or text message without a consumer’s consent. It also would limit debt collection fees.

The House also approved the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act 315 to 101. All of Nevada’s House Democrats voted for the bill. Amodei was among 99 Republicans to vote for the legislation. 

Amodei called the bill “a good deal.”

He also voted for the measure the last time the House took it up, in September, when he said he backed the bill because it is already the law in Nevada. 

The legislation would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers as long as the accommodation does not impose an undue burden on the employer.

The House also approved a bill to require the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to provide best practices for schools to establish Behavioral Intervention Teams (BITs). Used by some schools and universities, BITs meet regularly to coordinate interventions for students who might need help. 

The bill was approved on a 323 to 93 vote under a suspension of the rules and received the two-thirds majority needed to pass. The vote split the state’s House delegation with Horsford and Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) opposing the measure.

Titus’s office said her concern is that the bill, as currently written, could result in unnecessary interactions with law enforcement. 

“It could unnecessarily push students – especially students of color and children living with disabilities – into the juvenile justice system in situations where non-punitive interventions could be more effective,” her office said.

Horsford’s office raised similar concerns and said that the bill’s authors have pledged to work with them both to address their concerns. 

Earmarks

Two House committees have solicited earmarks. The Appropriation Committee sought earmarks for the fiscal 2022 budget, allowing House members to request up to ten projects for consideration to receive funds from certain pots of money.

The process requires members to certify that neither they, nor their families, would benefit financially from an earmarked project. 

The House Transportation Committee, working on a new surface transportation package, also collected funding requests.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will start taking earmark requests on June 16. 

Titus requested the most amount of money, $40.7 million, for 11 projects. That includes $20 million for four transportation projects. Her request also includes $15.3 million for the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, which is the most she sought for a single project and the second-highest amount sought for a project by anyone in the House delegation. 

The funds would be used to design and build a new facility and help expand the programs and services of the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center, which supports the victims of the 1 October shooting and other victims of crime. 

Amodei requested five transportation projects totaling $21 million, including $6 million for the Arlington Ave. bridge over the Truckee River in Reno. That bridge was among a list of 24 in his district deemed to be in poor condition by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association’s (ARTBA) most recent “Bridge Report.”

He also requested $6 million for a hydrogen fuel cell bus project in Reno, $5 million to expand Coleman Rd. in Fallon, $2 million for improvements to State Road 28 in Washoe County and $2 million for William St. in Carson City.

Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) requested nearly $5 million for five projects. She only entertained requests made to her office from state and local governments and institutions of higher learning.

Her largest request was $2 million for the Henderson Workforce Training Center. The funds would be used to outfit the center with advanced manufacturing training equipment. The center received a nearly $7 million federal grant in February to help with construction costs, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported. The center, affiliated with the College of Southern Nevada, will be a 25,000 square-foot facility designed to help build the state’s manufacturing workforce. 

Horsford requested a total of $37.6 million for 12 projects. Funding for ten of the projects was requested from the Appropriations Committee. The remaining two projects were transportation-related, totaling $13.5 million, and were requested from the transportation committee. He requested the most projects.  

His list included the largest request for a single project, $15.4 million, was to help Opportunity Village develop a 17.49-acre parcel of land in his district. The nonprofit plans to build a baked goods manufacturing facility and hydroponics/indoor farm that would provide vocational training and employment to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Southern Nevada.

Miscellany

Rosen announced that she will hold a hearing Tuesday in her Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion Subcommittee on reviving international travel and tourism. Witnesses will include Rosemary Vassiliadis, director of aviation at McCarran International Airport. The hearing will be Rosen’s second in her new post.

All members of the delegation also introduced legislation last week to extend the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act. The law, which provided $415 million to protect the lake and the Tahoe Basin over seven years, was reauthorized in 2016 and doesn’t expire until 2024. But that reauthorization came after a six-year gap following  the program’s expiration in 2010. The region’s lawmakers don’t want to risk another lapse, they said, so they introduced the measure a few years ahead of the 2024 expiration.

“Lake Tahoe is a treasure that provides a beautiful refuge for Nevadans to enjoy while boosting our state’s tourism economy,” Cortez Masto said in a release. “This legislation has helped fund numerous restoration and conservation projects while supporting local jobs.”

Also, last week, Horsford was appointed to serve on the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees military policy in the lower chamber. 

“This appointment will create new opportunities for my office to advocate for military families and veterans and push for the high-quality health care, education, child care, and additional support they deserve,” Horsford said.

His district includes Nellis Air Force Base, Creech Air Force Base, the Nevada Test and Training Range and Hawthorne Army Depot.

Amodei introduced legislation that seeks to ease the federal permitting process for domestic mineral exploration and the development of critical and strategic minerals.

“By streamlining the permitting process, this legislation will decrease our dependency on foreign sources of minerals and allow us to leverage our nation’s vast mineral resources while paying respect to economic, national security, and environmental concerns,” Amodei said.

Last week also saw the Treasury Department release guidance on how state and local governments can spend $350 billion in pandemic aid, which included allowing states to make up for lost revenue and fund water and broadband infrastructure projects. The Treasury barred state and local governments from funding tax cuts. 

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.1638 – A bill to protect immigrant families, combat fraud, promote citizenship, and build community trust, and for other purposes.

S.1583 – A bill to reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.1587 – A bill to allow nonprofit child care providers to participate in the loan programs of the Small Business Administration.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.1651 – A bill to impose certain measures with respect to Hizballah-affected areas in Latin America and the Caribbean and to impose sanctions with respect to senior foreign political figures in Latin America who support Hizballah, and for other purposes.

S.1583 – A bill to reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, and for other purposes.

S.1574 – A bill to codify a statutory definition for long-term care pharmacies.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 3166 – To make demonstration grants to eligible local educational agencies or consortia of eligible local educational agencies for the purpose of increasing the numbers of school nurses in public elementary schools and secondary schools.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3224 – To amend title 10, United States Code, to improve the responses of the Department of Defense to sex-related offenses, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3132 – To reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3122 – To amend title 10, United States Code, to expand parental leave for members of the Armed Forces, to reduce the service commitment required for participation in the career intermission program of a military department, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3121 – To expand child care opportunities for members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3097 – To amend titles 23 and 49, United States Code, to require metropolitan planning organizations to consider greenhouse gas emissions in long-range transportation plans and transportation improvement programs, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3093 – To provide assistance to the hotel industry, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3088 – To amend chapter 44 of title 18, United States Code, to ensure that all firearms are traceable, and for other purposes.

REP. MARK AMODEI

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 3132 – To reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3101 – To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to repeal the firearm transfer tax, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3080 – To protect law enforcement officers, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3079 – To amend title 18, United States Code, to punish criminal offenses targeting law enforcement officers, and for other purposes.

REP. SUSIE LEE

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 3155 – To allow nonprofit child care providers to participate in the loan programs of the Small Business Administration.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3224 – To amend title 10, United States Code, to improve the responses of the Department of Defense to sex-related offenses, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3132 – To reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, and for other purposes.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 3224 – To amend title 10, United States Code, to improve the responses of the Department of Defense to sex-related offenses, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3180 – To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide an elective payment for energy property and electricity produced from certain renewable resources, and for other purposes.

H.R. 3132 – To reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, and for other purposes.