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

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez
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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.

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