Rep. Mark Amodei is known for being blunt, using salty language and talking about topics others avoid, a reputation that was on display when he blurted out two weeks ago that Speaker Paul Ryan would resign.
After Ryan made the announcement Wednesday that he was retiring from Congress, Amodei, known for a candor that can cause him headaches, looked more prescient than foolish.
“I got asked a direct question,” Amodei said, noting that that is why he made the comment to Nevada Newsmakers late last month about Ryan. “The rumor mill was pretty active. I don’t think there’s a bunch of surprise” about Ryan’s announcement that he will not seek re-election.
Amodei, who will turn 60 in June and is seeking his fifth term representing the safe Republican 2nd Congressional District, is comfortable with his style even if it sometimes rubs people the wrong way. His demeanor hasn’t held him back, with more than two decades of serving in public office (he was a state lawmaker before taking Dean Heller’s congressional seat when Heller was appointed to replace disgraced Sen. John Ensign). He’s proud of a legislative record that includes supporting the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and helping pass the GOP tax reform and cut law, and the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package.
He said he gets his frank demeanor from his dad.
“My dad was half-Irish, half-Italian, so I can tell you there wasn’t a lot of political correctness at the dinner table,” he said.
His comments come after an incident last month when a member of his staff reported to school officials a student who called Amodei’s office and used profanity in urging action on gun violence. That sparked a letter from the ACLU of Nevada calling on the congressman to apologize for punishing the student for exercising his First Amendment rights. Amodei refused and said that his staffer was also expressing his First Amendment rights.
Amodei is also known to use profanity. “If that’s all you got on me? You got me on that,” he said.
When asked about his re-election, Amodei said he feels voters know him.
“I’ve been doing this in one form or another, in the state assembly, the state senate or [in Congress] for 20 years,” Amodei said. “There’s not a lot of mystery here. What you see is what you get. We don’t try to hide that from people. We try to be very transparent.”
But while his seat is safely Republican, he still believes he has to earn the position.
“In this business, about the time you start taking something for granted you get a nasty surprise,” Amodei said. “You’re only as good as your next election. That’s kind of why we basically conduct ourselves—the whole 14 person entity that is my congressional office, here, in Carson and in Elko—it’s like, listen, you’re earning your job everyday. Some days we’d like a do over, but fortunately not too many.”
His next election is on June 12, when he will face Sharron Angle, a former four-term state assemblywoman, serving until 2007. She was the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in 2010, ultimately losing to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid.
Amodei said he knows Angle well because he was the state Republican Party chairman during her 2010 Senate race against Reid.
“We worked very hard for her,” Amodei said.
Despite previously working with Angle, Amodei said it has never been his strategy to win political campaigns by attacking his opponents.
“If I can’t get your support because you think I’m doing a good job, then we’re not going to trash somebody in the general or the primary,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing for 20 years and so that’s kind of what feels comfortable for me.”
While not in the leadership inner circle, Amodei said he has a good working relationship with the House GOP leaders.
“I try to be a low-maintenance guy,” the Nevada Republican said. “I work my issues, I don’t come to them with problems, I try to solve my own problems and if, as a last resort, I need leadership, then hopefully they’re paying attention because I’m not asking very often.”
Amodei is typically a reliable vote for the GOP agenda, except on immigration, as Republicans have increasingly taken a harder line, in keeping with President Donald Trump and his campaign promise to crack down.
Amodei likes to point out that he is one of two Republicans who have signed onto a Democratic measure to force a vote, if a majority is reached, on a bill that would legalize undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children, known as DREAMers, who meet certain requirements, and provide them a path to citizenship.
“When I agree with the team, which is most of the time, I work with the team,” Amodei said.
He also initially opposed the GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but ultimately decided to support the measure after working with Vice President Mike Pence to make sure the bill would not result in Nevada Medicaid recipients losing health insurance coverage and blowing a hole in the state’s budget.
“I didn’t want people kicked off, and I didn’t want the state to be a half-billion in debt, that bill didn’t do that,” he said, adding that that’s why he decided to change his mind.
Not everyone agreed with Amodei’s assessment of the proposal. Governor Brian Sandoval, also a Republican, signed on to a letter with six other governors from both parties that said the House-passed bill would shift costs to states and jeopardize coverage for the poor.
Amodei also said he stands behind his vote for the $1.5 trillion Republican tax cut Congress passed in 2017, which he said has helped the economy. “We’ll be able to demonstrate throughout the campaign why it is,” he said.
“I feel very strongly about the vote on” the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package, said Amodei, who has previously said the measure included important benefits for Nevada, such as fire-prevention funds. Amodei voted for the spending bill, though he said he is discouraged by the process and blames the Senate for not being able to pass its 12 annual spending bills separately like the House did. Amodei sits on the House Appropriations Committee.
Although Trump signed the measure into law last month, he warned that he would not sign another similar package again. The bill was also criticized by conservatives and fiscal hawks worried about the debt and deficit.
Amodei is also proud of public lands management bills he has helped draft and pass. “The series of land bills we’ve done since I’ve been here … they’ve all been bipartisan,” Amodei said. “I think we’ve done very strong work to show how successful and bipartisan and responsible in a resource and a multiple use at the same time those bills can be.”
The latest effort is the Pershing County Public Land Act. Seventy-five percent of the county is owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Much of this ownership is in a checkerboard pattern, with one section federally managed, while the section next to it is locally managed. The bill would allow sales and exchanges to get rid of the checkerboard pattern and allow for economic development and protect areas of significant ecological value.
Though he was right about Ryan, Amodei will have to wait until the House elects a new speaker later this year to see if he was right about Ryan’s successor. Some see Ryan’s departure as a concession that the GOP will lose the majority, in part because of the unpopularity of President Donald Trump. An average of polls conducted between March 22 and April 10 said that 53.8 percent of those asked disapprove of the job Trump is doing.
But the jockeying has already begun. Scalise, from Louisiana, currently the House Republican Whip, who helps build support for the GOP agenda, has signaled his interest in running to be the top House Republican. His main competition for the spot is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of California, who has been raising large amounts of money for his House GOP colleagues and has a close relationship with Trump. McCarthy is also close with Sen. Dean Heller, which could bode well for the state were he to become speaker.
Amodei said no one has reached out to him for his support in the leadership race, which he believes is partly because it’s unclear whether the GOP will retain its House majority. “I think we’ll be in the majority, but there’s no guarantee for that,” he said.