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Capitol dome pictured from the eastern front of the U.S. Capitol April 1, 2019 (Humberto Sanchez/The Nevada Independent)

House Democrats passed a resolution last week chiding President Donald Trump and the Department of Justice for siding with a Texas judge who ruled the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. The House action came as the Senate Republicans voted to change the rules to speed the confirmation of the president’s nominees.

The health-care resolution passed the House 240-186 with all Nevada Democrats supporting the measure. Rep. Mark Amodei was not one of the eight House Republicans to vote in favor of the resolution.

With no chance of being considered in the Senate, where Republicans have the majority and control the agenda, the resolution will have no real-world policy impact. But Democrats are gambling that similar to the 2018 midterm election, the issue of health care will be a winning one for them in the 2020 presidential election.

That was true in Nevada, where Democrats including freshman Rep. Susie Lee campaigned heavily on protecting coverage for pre-existing conditions.

“Yesterday I voted to #ProtectOurCare & save coverage for the more than 300,000 people in #NV03 w/ pre-existing conditions,” she wrote on Twitter.

House Democrats decided to vote on the resolution after the DOJ wrote a letter last month to the 5th Circuit, where the Texas judge’s ruling is being appealed, stating that the agency supports the ruling that the entire law is unconstitutional. The suit, brought by 20 GOP state attorneys general, argued that the law was invalidated after the mandate to buy health insurance was repealed as part of a GOP-authored tax reform package enacted in 2017. The ruling is being appealed by 17 Democratic attorneys general, including Aaron Ford.

Trump’s decision to revisit health care riled some Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who are concerned that the president gave the Democrats a winning campaign issue using their 2018 playbook.

Trump sought to walk back the issue after McConnell told the president that he would not take on health care until after the 2020 election.

The House also passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which provides grants to support training for law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, service providers, and communities to provide comprehensive support to female victims of violent crimes, on a 253 to 158 vote with all of Nevada’s House Democrats voting for the bill.

“#VAWA saves lives,” Rep. Dina Titus wrote on Twitter after the vote Thursday. “Today I joined my House colleagues in voting to pass #VAWA19, which will improve services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Now it’s time for the Senate to do its job and send this bill to the President’s desk.”

The GOP-led Senate is not expected to embrace the House Democrats’ version of the bill. Amodei said he generally supports the measure, but the Democrats included counterproductive provisions

For example, “while the bill intends to make housing more widely available to victims, its broad mandates will discourage landlords from participating in federal housing programs and lead to less access, especially in rural areas,” Amodei said in a release.

Republicans also did not support the bill, in part, over a provision that would ban gun purchases for those with misdemeanor stalking and domestic abuse convictions. That’s a change from current law under which only felony stalking and domestic abuse convictions affect gun purchases. The provision, known as “the boyfriend loophole” was why the bill was opposed by the National Rifle Association, which said it would use the vote to calculate its annual vote scorecard for lawmakers.

House Democrats also passed a measure, on a 247-175 vote, that would stop U.S. military aid to Saudi Arabia in a show of opposition to its war in Yemen. Nevada’s House Democrats all voted for the measure, but most Republicans, including Amodei, opposed the proposal, which was passed by the Senate last month. The president is expected to veto the measure. Trump pledged to continue the Saudi aid; White House officials are concerned that the measure undermines the president as commander-in-chief and harms bilateral relationships in the region.

The House votes came as Senate Republicans voted to change procedure to speed the confirmation of the president’s nominations. Under the new process, the Senate can continue to debate a nominee for up to two hours, rather than 30, after voting to cut off debate.

The move makes so-called holds on nominees less effective because nominations will take less time to confirm. Previously, the minority party had more leverage with the ability to slow the nomination by taking up the entire 30 hours and thereby keeping other business off of the Senate floor. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto currently has a hold on all Department of Energy (DOE) nominees until Secretary Rick Perry commits in writing to not ship any more plutonium to Nevada — and to a timeline for removing a previous shipment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used a procedure to change the rules known as the nuclear option, which allows a change in Senate process on a simple majority vote.

Cortez Masto said the change will allow more of Trump’s conservative judicial nominees to be confirmed.

“Leader McConnell’s one-sided attempt to pack our nation’s judiciary is outrageous,” she said. “It’s nothing less than an assault on the rule of law as well as Americans’ health care, civil rights, and LGBTQ rights by rushing through nominees with extreme political agendas.”

Yucca Mountain

Cortez Masto also locked horns with Energy Secretary Rick Perry Tuesday over building a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain when she made the case that the project should not be funded because of concerns over seismic activity and its proximity to Nellis Air Force Base.

Trump requested $116 million to restart the NRC licensing process in the budget for the Department of Energy (DOE).

At a hearing held by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Cortez Masto cited a March 21 letter from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to Perry, raising concerns about the threat of increased seismic activity posed to the device assembly facility (DAF) at the Nevada National Security Site, which is about a 40-mile drive from the proposed repository site.

The letter said that the DOE has not incorporated 2007 evidence of increased seismic activity in its safety assessment for the DAF, which are structures for high explosive and nuclear explosive assembly operations.

“A seismically induced high explosive, violent reaction could result in unmitigated dose consequences to the off site public,” Cortez Masto said. “Predominantly, the report states that DOE has not evaluated the impact of the increased seismic hazard on safety related structures credited to protect public health and safety during a seismic event at the Nevada National Security Site.”

The board is an independent organization within the executive branch that is tasked with providing recommendations and advice to the president and the energy secretary regarding public health and safety issues at DOE defense nuclear facilities.

Perry said that he expects that DOE will incorporate the seismic information into the safety protocols for the DAF, and said he would follow up with Cortez Masto with further details.

On Monday, Titus, Lee and Rep. Steven Horsford sent letters to the leaders on the House Appropriations Committee’s chair and to the ranking member of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, urging the committee to block Yucca Mountain and prevent any new shipments of toxic plutonium to Nevada from South Carolina.

The letters asked for specific language in the subcommittee’s upcoming fiscal 2020 appropriations bill that would prevent the federal government from moving forward with storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain and block further shipments of plutonium from South Carolina to the Nevada National Security Site.

On Friday Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen wrote a similar letters to Senate appropriators asking them not to fund the project or any new shipments of plutonium to the state.

Last week also saw Illinois Republican Rep. John Shimkus, a champion of advancing the Yucca project, send a letter to Cortez Masto that called for the state to plead its case before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Her office said she plans to respond to Shimkus’ letter and called on him to back a House bill that would prevent the project from moving forward without consent from state, local and tribal governments.

Immigration

Rosen last week called into question Trump’s move to cut off $450 million in aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and argued that the move would trigger more illegal immigration by cutting funding to programs that make life livable in those countries including nutrition assistance, training police and increased prosecution of child sexual assault.

At a hearing held by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Thursday, she argued that cutting off the aid leaves a void for the Chinese to increase their influence in the region “making us less safe and possibly increasing reasons for people to come,” Rosen said.

Rosen also signed on to a letter to Trump with 32 other Senate Democrats, including Cortez Masto, that argued Congress already appropriated the funds to advance United States’ foreign policy priorities related to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

“By obstructing the use of FY2018 national security funding and seeking to terminate similar funding from FY2017, you are personally undermining efforts to promote U.S. national security and economic prosperity,” the letter said. “Since taking office, you have consistently expressed a flawed understanding of U.S. foreign assistance. It is neither charity, nor is it a gift to foreign governments.”

Rosen and Cortez Masto on Wednesday co-sponsored a bill that would allow immigrants who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children, known as DREAMers, to work on Capitol Hill. Most non-U.S. citizens are prohibited from working for the federal government, including DREAMers, under current law. 

Cortez Masto co-sponsored the Senate version of the DREAM Act, which would allow DREAMers who graduated from high school or obtained a GED, and pursued college, military service or at least three years of employment to become permanent residents and eventually apply for citizenship.

“I’m proud to again support bipartisan legislation that finally puts Dreamers on a pathway to citizenship and gives them the certainty to lead their lives and build their careers in the only country they’ve ever known,” Cortez Masto said.

She also signed on to a measure that would protect immigrant veterans and service members from deportation. The bill would identify non-citizens who are currently serving, or who have served, in the Armed Forces when they are applying for immigration assistance or when placed in immigration enforcement proceedings.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would also be required to make sure that all immigration and naturalization records reflect the service records, which will enable DHS to quickly process veterans and service members who are applying for naturalization.

Miscellany

Horsford introduced legislation last week that would require drug manufacturers to publicly justify large price increases and launch prices for high-cost drugs. The bill could be taken up by the House Ways and Means Committee as soon as next week.

Under the measure, beginning in 2021, if a drug price increases by more than 10 percent or $10,000 over the course of one year, 25 percent or $25,000 over three years, or has a launch price higher than $26,000, the manufacturer would be required to submit a justification to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Nevada passed a similar price transparency bill in 2017.

“In 2017, Nevada led the nation on drug price transparency by requiring insulin-makers to justify their large price increases. I’m proud to bring Nevada’s model to the national level,” said Congressman Horsford. “Too many families are being forced to choose between refilling a medication and putting food on the table.”

This week also saw Lee chair her first hearing as the top Democrat on the Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Committee’s Technology Modernization Subcommittee. The panel examined the Veterans Affairs Office of Information Technology (OIT), which has struggled with “cost overruns, schedule slippages, performance problems, and in some cases, complete failure,” according to VA Deputy Inspector General Brent Arronte, who testified at the hearing.

“One of the major problems at OI&T has been high turnover in leadership,” Lee said at the hearing. “VA has had five chief information officers in four years.”

Another issue for the OIT is the secure operation of systems and networks. The VA has previously reported security incidents in which sensitive information, including personally identifiable information, has been lost or stolen, potentially exposing millions of veterans and their families to the loss of privacy, identity theft, and other financial crimes.

Secure information technology systems and networks “are critical to VA in carrying out its mission of providing medical care and a range of benefits and services to veterans and their families,” Arronte 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 sponsored:
S. 1046 – A bill to establish the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth, and for other purposes.
S. 932 – A bill to increase intergovernmental coordination to identify and combat violent crime within Indian lands and of Indians.
Legislation co-sponsored:
S. 1049 – A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to ensure that members of the Armed Forces and their families have access to the contraception they need in order to promote the health and readiness of all members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.
S. 1040 – A bill to require the Secretary of Homeland Security to identify each alien who is serving, or has served, in the Armed Forces of the United States on the application of any such alien for an immigration benefit or the placement of any such alien in an immigration enforcement proceeding, and for other purposes.
S. 1028 – A bill to amend the Controlled Substances Act to provide for a new rule regarding the application of the Act to marijuana, and for other purposes.
S. 1026 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow workers an above-the-line deduction for union dues and expenses and to allow a miscellaneous itemized deduction for workers for all unreimbursed expenses incurred in the trade or business of being an employee.
S. 1002 – A bill to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 in order to increase usage of the Federal student loan income-based repayment plan and improve repayment options for borrowers, and for other purposes.
S. 993 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to extend certain tax credits related to electric cars, and for other purposes.
S. 975 – A bill to amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 to provide for greater spousal protection under defined contribution plans, and for other purposes.
SEN. JACKY ROSEN
Legislation co-sponsored:
S. 1049 – A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to ensure that members of the Armed Forces and their families have access to the contraception they need in order to promote the health and readiness of all members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.
S. 993 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to extend certain tax credits related to electric cars, and for other purposes.
S. 975 – A bill to amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 to provide for greater spousal protection under defined contribution plans, and for other purposes.
REP. DINA TITUS
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 2093 – To amend the Controlled Substances Act to provide for a new rule regarding the application of the Act to marihuana, and for other purposes.
H.R. 2091 – To amend title 10, United States Code, to ensure that members of the Armed Forces and their families have access to the contraception they need in order to promote the health and readiness of all members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.
H.R. 2048 – To prohibit the pricing of consumer products and services that are substantially similar if such products or services are priced differently based on the gender of the individuals for whose use the products are intended or marketed or for whom the services are performed or offered.
H.R. 2030 – To direct the Secretary of the Interior to execute and carry out agreements concerning Colorado River Drought Contingency Management and Operations, and for other purposes.
REP. MARK AMODEI
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 2093 – To amend the Controlled Substances Act to provide for a new rule regarding the application of the Act to marihuana, and for other purposes.
H.R. 2030 – To direct the Secretary of the Interior to execute and carry out agreements concerning Colorado River Drought Contingency Management and Operations, and for other purposes.
REP. SUSIE LEE
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 2030 – To direct the Secretary of the Interior to execute and carry out agreements concerning Colorado River Drought Contingency Management and Operations, and for other purposes.
REP. STEVEN HORSFORD
Legislation sponsored:
H.R. 2069 – To amend title XI of the Social Security Act to provide for drug manufacturer price transparency.
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 2055 – To provide an increased allocation of funding under certain programs for assistance in persistent poverty counties, and for other purposes.
H.R. 2030 – To direct the Secretary of the Interior to execute and carry out agreements concerning Colorado River Drought Contingency Management and Operations, and for other purposes.

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