Indy DC Download: Senate acquits Trump; Trump wavers on Yucca; House disapproves of proposal to cut Medicaid spending
The Senate last week wrapped up its impeachment trial by acquitting President Donald Trump as the House approved measures to revamp the labor laws, provide $4.6 billion for Puerto Rico earthquake recovery and disapprove of a White House plan to scale back Medicaid spending.
Those votes came as Trump indicated Thursday that his support was waning for building a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Rep. Mark Amodei, a Republican, who has been in touch with the Department of Energy (DOE) on the issue, said he is looking forward to Monday’s release of the White House’s fiscal 2021 budget request, which is expected to include no funds for the project and could indicate what alternative the president has in mind for nuclear waste storage.
The Nevada Republican said it would be significant if the budget includes funding for a path other than Yucca. “A pretty neat first step,” Amodei said.
On impeachment, both Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen voted to remove the president on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
But the vote tallies on the two articles of impeachment were nowhere near the 67 votes needed to convict and remove Trump from office. The Senate cleared Trump of abuse of power charges on a 52 to 48 vote. The chamber voted 53 to 47 to acquit Trump of obstruction of Congress.
The historic vote capped off two weeks of bitter partisan warfare in the capital that officially started when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced in late September that the chamber would begin an investigation into whether the president should be impeached over his dealings with Ukraine. The House approved two articles of impeachment in December.
Democratic impeachment managers argued that Trump acted improperly by withholding military aid to Ukraine, and a White House visit for President Volodymyr Zelensky, to force the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential political rival for the presidency. They also contend Trump sought to cover up his alleged wrongdoing by not cooperating with the investigation.
The president has denied any wrongdoing. His legal team argued that his pause of the funding had to do with a concern over corruption in Ukraine and a desire to get America’s European allies to pay a larger share of the cost of securing Ukraine. They also argued that the impeachment process was flawed and that abuse of power was not an impeachable offense when a president believes he is acting in the public interest.
Final votes on impeachment came as House Democrats approved legislation on workers, Puerto Rico and the White House Medicaid proposal with little Republican support. Amodei opposed all but the Puerto Rico measure. All of the measures are unlikely to become law because of opposition from Trump.
With the end of the impeachment process, Nevada’s Democrats said they had no regrets about supporting it even though it resulted in an acquittal. They also said they were bound by their oaths to impeach in order to uphold the Constitution, which they said they believe Trump violated.
“At the end of the day, there is a constitutional role that we play in Congress and it’s part of our checks and balances,” Cortez Masto said before the final votes, which took place Wednesday. “And we have to do our job, we have to make sure that we're providing the oversight when there is concern, as in this case, as the House managers brought forward, that the president was abusing his power in office.”
Rep. Susie Lee echoed Cortez Masto’s point.
“I didn't come here to impeach the president,” Lee said when asked if she had any second thoughts on voting to impeach. “I actually thought long and hard about that vote and it wasn't an easy vote for me, but it wasn't a political one at all. It was what I felt I had to do to uphold my oath to the Constitution.”
Rep. Dina Titus argued that the process shined a light on the inner workings of the administration that otherwise may have gone unnoticed.
“First, we did our constitutional duty and you can't shirk that no matter what the politics are,” Titus said. “Second, it brought out a lot more information, or at least emphasized that information.”
She also stressed that it was bipartisan, citing the fact the Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah voted guilty with Democrats on the charge of abuse of power.
“And in the end, it was bipartisan and Romney did the right thing,” Titus continued. “And the president can claim that he was exonerated, but he wasn’t. It wasn't a fair trial. There were no witnesses. And some people even admitted what he did was wrong. They just kind of said, in effect, ‘we’re not going to hold him to it.’”
Republicans, such as Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, said that the House impeachment managers proved their case and that the president acted improperly. But he was a key vote against hearing from new witnesses because he did not believe that what the president did was an impeachable offense.
Members also said that despite the impeachment, they were hopeful that Congress could turn the page and try to legislate.
“I have to put any personal feelings I could have aside,” Rosen said of the impeachment result. “That's not what I'm elected to do. I'm elected to come here and fight every day to help hard-working men and women not just in Nevada, but across the country try to make their lives better. So I'm going to find every way I can to do that.”
Amodei—who, along with all other House Republicans, voted against the impeachment articles—said it may have helped the president in his re-election bid.
“Nobody's ever in his life, I think, talked about Donald Trump as a victim,” Amodei said. “And guess what? These guys may have done the impossible. And that's made Donald Trump the victim in some people's eyes.”
In a Gallup poll released last week, 49 percent said they approve of the job Trump is doing in office, an all-time high for the president. He also registered a 94 percent approval rating with Republicans. That is six percentage points more than a poll from early January and is three points higher than his previous best among his fellow partisans.
State of the Union
Democrats, including Titus, were put off by Trump’s tone in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, which they found painfully partisan.
“I thought he was like a carnival barker,” Titus said. “The only thing he didn’t do was throw paper towels.”
Trump threw rolls of paper towels to victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017 and was later criticized by island officials for being insensitive.
Amodei disputed that it was excessively partisan.
“That's like a weatherman saying, ‘Hey, I think there's rain’ in the forecast. Come on, seriously,” Amodei said. “Tell me about the apolitical State of the Union.”
“I think it's fair,” Amodei said. “I think you're going to see several launches to this campaign, which is already underway. And that was one of them, quite frankly.”
The Nevada Republican was part of Trump’s Nevada 2016 election operation, but was not asked to resume his role for the 2020 cycle after his support for Congress exercising oversight on the Ukraine matter was mischaracterized by some media outlets as support for impeaching the president.
Republican members of Congress cheered Trump by chanting “four more years” before he started his speech in the House chamber. He also awarded conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian honor.
“That was the biggest insult, I thought,” Titus said of the honoring of Limbaugh.
Trump touted accomplishments, including passing the trade deal between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and mostly talked about GOP-backed policies that lack Democratic support, including building a wall on the southern border and a crackdown on immigration. But he also called on Congress to pass legislation reducing prescription drug prices and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.
Titus, Lee and Rep. Steven Horsford said that they were willing to work with the president on those issues, but were unsure of his sincerity.
“He mentioned infrastructure, but slightly,” Titus said. “He just kind of jumped over it. And he mentioned prescription drugs as though he didn't know about H.R. 3, so how sincere can he be? But, you know, hope springs eternal.”
H.R. 3 is a sweeping prescription drug bill approved by House Democrats in December that would mandate that Medicare directly negotiate the price of up to 250 prescription drugs, including insulin. Negotiation is banned under a 2003 law. The measure would also make the negotiated prices available to those with private insurance.
But Trump opposes the House bill in part because he believes it would hurt innovation in drug research. Hopes for a prescription drug bill now rest with a bipartisan Senate effort to draft a measure led by Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
The House last week passed three measures, including a resolution, 223 to 190, that disapproved of a White House proposal to convert Medicaid into a block grant program, which would threaten the coverage of 630,000 Medicaid beneficiaries in Nevada, said Horsford.
“We will see cuts that disproportionately hurt growing states like Nevada,” Horsford said adding that Democrats would use every means at their disposal to prevent the plan from being implemented.
Medicaid is currently funded by the federal government and the states; funding rises with the cost of health-care services and increased enrollment in the program.
Under the proposal, the federal government would cap its share of the funding each year in exchange for giving states more flexibility on how they can spend the funds.
“If Trump had his way, they would set the amount, cap it. And future growth would not be factored,” Horsford said. "That would disproportionately hurt children, seniors and those that are on a low income.”
Currently, more than 630,000 people in Nevada rely on Medicaid to access their health care. All could face changes to their coverage, or loss of coverage altogether, in a block grant plan, according to Horsford’s office.
The resolution is unlikely to be considered by the Republican-controlled Senate. No House Republicans voted for the resolution. Amodei said he opposed the measure, in part, because it was designed to be fodder for campaign ads rather than spur a discussion on the issue.
“Nobody's going to do something to harm pregnant women, children, old people and sick people,” he stressed.
Amodei said he supports giving states more Medicaid spending flexibility, but that has to be balanced against requirements for fiscal responsibility.
“That’s the discussion that I think needs to be had...what do you want for flexibility to allow you to control your own destiny, to some extent,” Amodei said. “But we’re not going to say ‘here, you run the program however you want and we'll just pump money into it and hope you do a good job.’”
“You’ve got to have that discussion, and this does nothing to facilitate that,” he continued.
The House also approved the Protecting the Right to Organize Act on a 224 to 194 vote. Only five Republicans voted with most Democrats in favor of the measure. Seven Democrats voted with most Republicans against the legislation.
Amodei said he opposed the measure because of a provision that would allow workers to override right-to-work laws. Nevada has such a law on the books, which prohibits agreements between labor unions and employers making membership in a union, or payment of union dues, a condition of employment.
The Nevada Republican argued that unions are strong in the state, citing the Culinary Union, as well as unions for teachers and government workers, that have not been hampered by the law.
“I just don't think we need to repeal right-to-work,” Amodei said. “It's working fine in Nevada. It's coexisting fine with a strong union culture.”
He also said the bill was a gift to organized labor. The White House has threatened to veto the measure because of concerns that it would “kill jobs” and runs counter to the president’s deregulation agenda.
Horsford lauded passage of the bill.
“In this current economic climate, the reasons to support unions and the workers they represent are plentiful,” he said. “When workers can stand together and negotiate with their employers, they earn higher wages and narrow both the racial wealth gap and the gender pay gap.”
All of Nevada’s House members voted to provide aid to Puerto Rico. But the White House has threatened a veto citing a desire to wait for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assess damage from the most recent temblor, which struck Tuesday.
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. JACKY ROSEN
S. 3251 – Veterans Assistance Helpline Act
S. 3250 – DHS Opioid Detection Resilience Act of 2020
SEN. DINA TITUS
H.R. 5787 – To amend the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 to clarify whistleblower rights and protections, and for other purposes.
H.R. 5756 – To amend the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 to extend the provision of assistance for critical services with respect to certain disasters, and for other purposes.
SEN. SUSIE LEE
H.R. 5789 – To allow nonprofit child care providers to participate in the loan programs of the Small Business Administration.
SEN. STEVEN HORSFORD
H.R. 5798 – For the relief of Cesar Carlos Silva Rodriguez.
H.R. 5787 – To amend the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 to clarify whistleblower rights and protections, and for other purposes.
H.R. 5767 – To defer the removal of certain Eritrean nationals for a 24-month period, and for other purposes.