Despite the Democratic-controlled House and GOP-run Senate often working at cross purposes, the state’s congressional delegation was busy in 2019, which saw the historic impeachment of President Donald Trump, a unified effort to fend off funding to store nuclear waste in Nevada and no government shutdown.
Along with those bills, House Democrats pointed to legislation to reduce prescription drug prices, the passage of which helped them argue that they could legislate even as they were preparing to vote for two articles of impeachment against Trump.
Members of the delegation also celebrated the enactment of a defense policy bill and House approval of a revised trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.
The approval of two articles of impeachment will be remembered for being only the third time in history that the House challenged a president in that way, but it was the delegation’s work this year to keep funding from going to a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain that kept a perennial threat at bay in Nevada.
“Yes, that’s always on the top of the list,” said Rep. Dina Titus when asked about 2019 accomplishments.
The delegation scrambled into action in May when House Republicans on the Appropriations Committee made a push to add $74 million to a must-pass spending bill to restart the process to license the project.
The amendment was narrowly defeated 27 to 25 after Nevada members pushed to win over their Democratic colleagues on the panel.
Rep. Steven Horsford, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, lobbied his fellow members who serve on the spending panel, including Rep. Sanford Bishop of Georgia.
“He used all of his networks,” Bishop said in July, recalling Horsford’s outreach.
“He was a very strong advocate for Nevada,” Bishop continued. “He’s a colleague, and we admire and respect him and we tried to do what we can to help him.”
Titus, who is close to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, enlisted her support. Pelosi has historically opposed the Yucca project, going back to when former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who retired in 2016, led the delegation’s fight against the project.
Republican Rep. Mark Amodei also played a key role. He serves on the spending panel and his vote was unknown until he cast it. He was the only Republican on the committee to oppose the GOP-written amendment. Amodei supports continued funding to study Yucca, but indicated that the state would need some compensation in order for the GOP to win his vote to formally advance the project.
“If all you’re going to offer me is up or down on a landfill, I’m a ‘no,’” he said coming out of the committee markup.
He recently said that he would have supported a bill to restart the licensing process that passed the House 340 to 72 in 2018 — if Republican leaders had allowed him to offer an amendment to prioritize the state’s universities for project-related research. He voted against the bill because of that issue.
The 2018 bill, sponsored by Rep. John Shimkus, a Republican from Illinois, reappeared in 2019. A version of the measure, sponsored by California Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney and Shimkus, was approved by a unanimous voice vote when considered in November by the 55-member Energy and Commerce Committee.
Pelosi never scheduled a floor vote on the measure because of the objections of Horsford and Rep. Susie Lee, recently elected Democrats who have been targeted by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans.
Pelosi’s move was analogous to what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did before the 2018 midterm election to protect former Sen. Dean Heller who, nevertheless, lost his re-election bid.
In the Senate, Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, announced his effort to push for action on Yucca when he unveiled in early May a Senate version of the bill to continue the licensing process for Yucca.
The panel never considered the bill, though it did hear from experts at a hearing on the measure.
Both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen appeared before the panel and made the case against the project.
Cortez Masto argued that “Yucca Mountain is a seismically and geologically unfit site to store this dangerous material” and that the process by which Yucca was chosen smacked of “political opportunism” that “was used to scapegoat Nevada.”
Rosen said that the transportation of the waste poses a considerable risk.
A member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Cortez Masto has been in talks with chairman Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to protect Nevada from remaining the default site for a national repository by making changes to nuclear-waste legislation proposed by Murkowski. Talks are ongoing.
Impeach and legislate
But it was the impeachment votes that got the most media coverage. The delegation split along party lines on the two articles of impeachment against Trump—abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Those votes brought criticism from the NRCC, Trump’s re-election campaign and conservative groups against Lee and Horsford.
But Pelosi also scheduled a vote on sweeping legislation designed to overhaul how prescription drugs are priced by mandating that Medicare directly negotiate the price of up to 250 prescription drugs, including insulin. Currently, negotiation is banned under a 2003 law. The measure would also make the negotiated prices available to those with private insurance.
The bill passed 230 to 192, a week before the impeachment vote, with only two Republicans voting in favor of the measure, which gave Democrats an accomplishment to point to over the holiday break.
Both Lee and Horsford, who campaigned on lowering prescription drug prices, did just that. On Dec. 15, the two appeared at a joint press conference in Las Vegas.
The bill is not expected to be taken up by the Senate, where Republicans and Democrats are working on their own bill, but could serve for the basis of negotiations on a bicameral bill that has a chance to pass both chambers.
In addition to prescription drug legislation, Lee, who is one of 31 House Democrats representing a district won by President Donald Trump in 2016, also touted House passage of the revised U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade pact, known as the USMCA.
“Above all else, this deal shows the American people that Congress and the White House can come together across party lines to get things done,” she said in a release.
“The United States trades more with our neighbors directly to the North and South than we do with any other countries in the world,” said Amodei, who added that the deal would “grow our economy by stimulating more than $68 billion in new economic activity.”
Mexico and Canada are the state’s two largest trading partners, and in 2017, Nevada sent a total of $1.7 billion in exports to those countries, including $1.1 billion to Canada and $606 million to Mexico.
The USMCA passed the House by 385 to 41. The Senate is expected to consider the deal after the impeachment trial.
The delegation also played its role in approving the annual national defense authorization act (NDAA) and the annual spending bills.
The Senate passed the NDAA 86 to 8, with both the state’s senators voting for the legislation. The measure was approved by the House earlier this month 377 to 48, with the support of all of Nevada’s lawmakers.
The measure provides a 3.1 percent pay increase for service members, and for the first time would establish paid parental leave for federal employees, including 12 weeks paid parental leave in the case of birth, adoption or fostering. The provisions would benefit the state’s active military population and federal workers that serve Nevada’s military installations, including Nellis Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs.
The bill also includes a provision requiring the Secretary of Defense to establish a new 5G information communications technology research-and-development program and create a secure 5G wireless network at the Nevada Test and Training Range to serve as a major range and test facility base for fifth-generation wireless networking.
Meanwhile, approval of the annual spending bills included $25 million to research the causes of gun violence, with the money divided between the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health.
“This is the first time in over 20 years that such research has been funded,” Titus said.