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D.C. Download: Horsford on how the Biden campaign needs to win over Nevada's Black voters

The Black Caucus chair and Nevada’s first Black congressman said Democrats need to start promoting a “Day One” agenda for a second Biden term.
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
CongressElection 2024ElectionsGovernment

I sat down with Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) in his office on Wednesday to check in at the halfway point of his two-year tenure as the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). We talked about the challenges — over legislation and culture wars — that affected his first year, and his take on what Democrats down the ticket need to do to engage Black voters and to win Nevada.

The view from NV-04

When I interviewed Horsford last January about his ambitions for the CBC, he talked about ensuring that the accomplishments of the last Congress — chief among them the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act — were implemented equitably in caucus members’ districts. He had hoped that those new programs would underpin his vision on advancing economic prosperity, including promoting homeownership and jobs for historically underserved communities.

That vision has remained a focus, but it’s been somewhat undermined this year — from fighting Republicans’ attempts to defund diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in the military, reports of racial discrimination in mortgage lending, and the Supreme Court’s decision to end affirmative action in higher education.

“I didn't expect to have to take on [these] issue[s],” Horsford said. “This fight came to me.”

It’s been a lot of defense for a chairman who wants Democrats to play more offense. But with the attention of the presidential election shining on Nevada and specifically on Black voters, Horsford sees 2024 as an opportunity to promote his party’s record to voters and start laying out what he calls a Day One agenda for a second Biden administration — particularly if Democrats can recapture the House, which would require flipping just four seats.

“I've said this to the administration: You can't just run off of what we've done — as good as that is — and the progress that we've made,” Horsford said. “You have to cast the vision for what we will do in the next four years.”

Should Democrats be worried about Black voter engagement?

A spate of polling has the White House concerned about whether they’re reaching Black men — prompting meetings that have included Horsford.

Black voters participated in the 2022 midterm at a clip 10 points lower than they did in 2018; November polling from The New York Times found that a whopping 22 percent of Black voters planned to vote for former president Donald Trump, which would represent massive growth among a demographic group key to Democrats’ coalition.

Horsford said he’s not worried about a small percentage of Black voters who might be moving rightward; he thinks Democrats need to focus their efforts on Black voters who are disengaged. As Vice President Kamala Harris reportedly says, there’s concern about Biden losing to “the couch” rather than Trump. 

The Black Caucus chairman rattled off accomplishments that the Biden administration has achieved for Black people — the lowest Black unemployment rate in American history, the doubling of Small Business Administration loans to Black businesses relative to 2020 and the temporary record low rate of child poverty as a result of the expanded child tax credit.

The challenge, he said, is in communicating.

“Over 80 percent of Black voters support the Biden-Harris administration and their policies,” Horsford said. “I just need to make sure that those voters know what's at risk if they don't turn out to vote.”

To that end, Horsford said he’s encouraged the campaign to lean more into what he calls “the people in the policy” rather than the personalities of candidates that are very well-known and broadly disliked by the electorate.

That means touting the people affected by Democratic legislation — veterans receiving health care through the PACT Act, seniors benefitting from out-of-pocket caps on insulin and prescription drugs, union workers who will be able to get jobs and train apprentices as a result of the federally funded high-speed rail project coming to Las Vegas.

Horsford cited Biden's recent appearance on Late Night with Seth Myers this week as a step in the right direction, with the president addressing concerns about his age by saying that while he might be old, Trump’s ideas — namely on abortion — are older and regressive. 

And he wants Biden to use his March 7 State of the Union address to outline how a second Biden term will bring economic opportunity, particularly on issues where people are still feeling squeezed, like housing costs. 

Is he losing sleep over Democrats potentially losing the election?

The 50-year-old Horsford — significantly grayer than when he first arrived as a freshman in 2013, in a photo he showed me of himself on the House floor with civil rights icon John Lewis and then-Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) — joked that his age makes him lose sleep rather than the election.

But he said what concerns him more than November is the broader legal effort to erode what he sees as cornerstones of democracy — public education, misinformation undermining a free press and abortion rights among them. Evoking the civil rights and congressional leaders whose images dot his office walls, Horsford said his charge is to defend civil freedoms today to safeguard them for the next generation.

“[In] Nevada, we are fortunate that we have been able to manage against some of the worst of these things,” Horsford said. “But that doesn't mean that if the right people don't get in, those rights, or opportunities or freedoms, are somehow just protected.” 

Around the Capitol

🍼Dems in on IVF — In the wake of the Alabama Supreme Court decision imperiling in vitro fertilization in the state, Nevada Democrats are lining up behind a congressional proposal to codify the right to pursue fertility treatments. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) are co-sponsoring a Senate proposal from Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), while Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) is supporting the House version of the bill.

Duckworth attempted to pass the bill via unanimous consent Wednesday, but Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) objected.

Lee revealed in a statement that she has been a beneficiary of IVF treatment — “Without it, I would not have my two incredible children,” she said.

📉The incredible shrinkflating product — With the president beginning to call out “shrinkflation” in the run-up to the State of the Union address, Rosen is getting in on the shrinkflation action (shraction?) with a new bill.

Shrinkflation refers to companies shrinking the size of their products without lowering their prices — and often actually raising them. Rosen joined Sen. Bob Casey’s (D-PA) Shrinkflation Prevention Act, which would empower the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to legally challenge the practice as unfair and deceptive. 

Four of the bill’s sponsors — including Casey himself — are running for re-election in battleground states this cycle.

🏛️Mitch McConnell gives nine-month notice — The longtime Senate Republican leader, and rival of former Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), announced he’ll be stepping down in November from his leadership role — a position he has held for 18 years.

His departure will close the book on a chapter of Senate history — largely written by McConnell and Reid — in which many of the bipartisan norms that had buoyed the institution were significantly frayed. The Kentucky lawmaker’s tenure in the Senate has overlapped with eight different senators from Nevada.

It would no doubt please Reid to know that while McConnell holds the record for longest-serving party leader in the Senate, he still spent less of them leading the majority (six years) than Reid did (eight).

Notable and Quotable

“I know that when I center the people in the policy, and not the personalities of DC, or two leading people running for president, our ideas will win the day.”

— Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), on the kind of campaigns Democrats should run

What I’m Reading

Roll Call: Supreme Court to hear arguments on Trump-era ‘bump stock’ rule

The rule in question classifies bump stocks, which were used in the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, as machine guns, thereby banning them. Titus has tried to ban them legislatively.

The Nevada Independent: College of Southern Nevada names ex-Rep. Ruben Kihuen to top lobbyist job

Sexual harassment allegations prevented a 2018 re-election bid, but not this.

Bloomberg News: Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell: Public enemies, private friends

Taking it back to 2011. With friends like these …

Staffing Announcements

Alana Mounce was promoted to political director of the Biden campaign. Mounce, a former executive director of the Nevada Democrats, was Biden’s Nevada state director in the 2020 campaign and most recently was their ballot access director this cycle. 

If you have a new position in Nevada politics, reach out and let me know! 


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