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East front of the U.S. Capitol. July 16, 2018. (Humberto Sanchez/The Nevada Independent)

Before going on a two-week recess, the House last week overwhelmingly approved legislation, backed by Nevada representatives, to provide access to the banking system for the marijuana industry, as House Democrats officially launched an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. 

That vote came as a House panel advanced a bill that would restart the licensing process to build a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. But the measure is unlikely to reach the full House, according to Nevada lawmakers opposed to the project. 

The House action also came as the Senate approved a temporary stopgap spending measure that would fund the government past Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, and give Congress additional time to finish work on the annual appropriations bills. The measure—which passed 81 to 16 with the support of both Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen—would keep the government's doors open through Nov. 21 and Trump is expected to sign it. The Senate is also on a two-week recess. 

Impeachment

But it was the official start of the House impeachment investigation that drew the nation’s attention last week.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi made the announcement Tuesday a few hours after Rep. Susie Lee and Rep. Steven Horsford issued a joint statement declaring their support for an initial inquiry. 

The two Nevada Democrats were part of a wave of House Democrats who came out in favor of an official inquiry following allegations that Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July phone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, who could end up as Trump’s opponent in the 2020 presidential race. 

Trump contends he did nothing improper and last week released a summary of the call and a complaint from an intelligence community whistleblower who thought the call potentially endangered national security.

According to the summary, Trump sought assistance from Ukraine with Biden eight times. The call came about a week after Trump halted federal funds that had been appropriated to help Ukraine defend itself against rival Russia, which annexed part of Ukraine in 2014.

In the complaint, which was released to the public on Thursday, the whistleblower raised concerns about the president seeking foreign help with political opponents and provides details of the call that stoked the concerns.

Members of the delegation said they found the details of the call and complaint disturbing and felt that the House was justified in doing its constitutional oversight duty.

“I want Congress to do their oversight,” Rosen said. “It’s troubling, it’s concerning. We have to investigate to make sure there’s no abuse of power and see what comes forward from it.”  

On a call with reporters Friday, Rep. Mark Amodei said he supports Congress getting to the facts of the matter. He later issued a statement to dispel any impression that he currently supports impeaching the president. 

He likened his position to that of Cortez Masto, who told KTVN Channel 2 on Thursday that the House inquiry should progress before making any conclusion.

“I think from all of that information, we have to follow the facts and figure out what happened here,” she said.

On Friday, her office said that she would be following the House inquiry closely, but “won’t speculate on the outcome.”

The impeachment inquiry is being conducted principally by six committees. But Rep. Dina Titus is helping lead an investigation in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee into whether Trump violated the Constitution's Emoluments Clauses through his hotel in Washington D.C. The committee’s work could also be used to help make the impeachment case against the president.

The clauses essentially bar the president from taking money from foreign governments or others who could unduly influence federal policy. 

Her subcommittee, which oversees the federal government’s property landlord, the Government Services Administration, held a hearing last week in which she and the full Transportation Committee chairman Peter DeFazio of Oregon threatened to issue subpoenas for documents, including an annual audit of Trump’s D.C. hotel.  

Titus said she believes the GSA failed to uphold the Constitution when it did not take into account the clauses in connection with the management of the lease for the hotel after Trump was elected. The federal government leased the Old Post Office building to a Trump Organization subsidiary in 2013, which developed the building into the hotel. The hotel opened in 2016 and is frequented by many having business before the federal government, including a Saudi lobbyist who spent almost $300,000 at the hotel in December 2016.  

In March 2017, after Trump took office, the GSA ruled that the Trump Organization was in compliance with the lease despite a provision that prohibits elected officials from benefiting from the arrangement. Titus has taken issue with the decision, as has the GSA Office of Inspector General, but the GSA contends it cannot opine on the Emoluments Clause issue because it is currently being litigated in the courts. 

House floor

Despite the launching of the impeachment inquiry, the House approved the marijuana banking bill; a measure that would prevent the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from separating families; a resolution to terminate Trump’s emergency declaration at the Southern border; and a measure to establish uniform processes for medical screening of those caught crossing the border illegally.

The marijuana bill, which would shield from federal penalties banks that serve the marijuana industry in states such as Nevada where it is legal, was supported by all members of the delegation, most of who were original co-sponsors of the measure. The legislation passed 321 to 103. Its passage in the GOP-controlled Senate remains unclear because Republicans are divided over the legalization issue and the Trump administration has not been supportive.

“The #SAFEBanking Act is about public safety, accountability, and respecting states’ rights,” Lee said on Twitter. “Yesterday, I helped pass this important bill so our federal banking laws can work to stop illicit activity and improve transparency.”

Because marijuana falls under the jurisdiction of the federal Controlled Substances Act, it’s against the law for anyone — including banks — to handle the proceeds from marijuana businesses.

Amodei’s support was premised, in part, on his opinion that “it’s the height of hypocrisy for the federal government to accept tax money from cannabis-related businesses in Nevada, while at the same time, banning them access to the banking system.”

The remaining bills were all supported by Nevada Democrats and opposed by Amodei. They are unlikely to be taken up by the Senate where Republicans are in the majority.

The homeland security legislation, which passed 230-194 with no Republican support, would also establish an ombudsman at DHS who would be responsible for responding to grievances and conducting facility inspections.

Amodei’s office said he opposed the bill because the agency already has the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties that by law collects and investigates complaints against DHS personnel, as well as recommends relief for such complaints.

The House approved a Senate resolution to terminate Trump’s emergency declaration at the Southern border declared earlier this year. Trump used the emergency declaration to reprogram funding to build a wall on the border with Mexico. So far, he has redirected $6.1 billion under the declaration, including $3.6 billion from military construction projects around the world. 

The House voted 236 to 174 in favor of ending Trump’s emergency declaration. Despite 11 Republicans voting with Democrats, the vote tally had fewer member than the two-thirds majority needed to override the expected veto. House action Thursday came a day after the Senate approved the measure on a 54 to 41, also not enough to overcome a veto. Rosen and Cortez Masto were among the Democrats voting for the resolution.

Amodei said Friday he voted against the resolution to allow for a barrier to be built where it makes sense. He also said some sections of the border may best be suited for technology or more manpower rather than a barrier.

“I think the Southern border has been so politicized that quite frankly the politics are running the issues and not the facts,” he said. 

“I just think we ought to have control of our borders,” he continued.

The bill to establish a standard medical screening processes for those caught crossing the border illegally was approved 230 to 184 with only two Republicans voting with Democrats. The bill comes as reports have emerged of poor health care services provided to those in the custody of the border patrol.

Amodei’s office said he opposed the legislation because a provision would require the establishment of an interoperable electronic health records system within 120 days. His office pointed out that this would be a massive undertaking that has yet to be completed by the Veterans Administration for servicemembers and veterans. Amodei is also concerned that the system would compete for funds with other DHS priorities, such as countering terrorist plots, equipping first responders and responding to natural disasters.

The House also approved a measure, by voice vote Thursday, sponsored by Titus that would require the Transportation Security Administration to make signage, video, audio, and online content more accessible to travelers at major airports who do not speak English as their primary language.

Senate floor

Before voting to approve the short-term spending package, both Cortez Masto and Rosen gave speeches on the chamber floor commemorating the second anniversary of the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting in Las Vegas. 

“In the space of eleven minutes Las Vegas was transformed,” Cortez Masto said noting that 58 people lost their lives that day in what is the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Rosen spoke of the city’s resiliency.

“This massacre shook our community to its very core,” she said, adding that “the bright lights of Las Vegas will continue to shine through the darkness of that day.”  

Both heralded the selfless acts of those that risked their lives to help others and both lamented that mass shootings have become almost commonplace noting that some of those who survived Oct. 1 have been involved in subsequent shootings.

Both urged Congress to pass legislation that would help stop mass shootings in the future.

“We have to reduce these senseless mass shootings and save lives,” Cortez Masto said. “And we can do that while respecting the rights of responsible gun owners.” 

Rosen referenced her support for a Democratic bill that would require background checks for all commercial gun sales, including those made at gun shows and online. Cortez Masto is also a supporter of the measure. 

“I implore this body to have the courage so that no other family has to endure this kind of tragedy, this kind of trauma and this kind of sorrow,” Rosen said. 

The Senate also approved a series of nominations including Eugene Scalia to be the secretary of labor. Scalia, the son of the late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, was confirmed 53 to 44 with all Democrats, including Cortez Masto and Rosen, opposing the nominations.

Democrats opposed Scalia, in part, because he spent much of his career as a lawyer defending large corporations in disputes with the government. 

“Eugene Scalia has spent his career fighting for the interests of powerful corporations at the expense of the health and safety of American workers and families,” Cortez Masto said in a release. ”He has sought to weaken workers’ rights at every turn, from leading the roll back of protections for retirees to defending companies who undermined the Americans with Disabilities Act. Mr. Scalia has no business serving as Secretary of Labor, and he did not receive my vote today."

Yucca

The Energy and Commerce Committee’s Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee advanced a bill that would restart the licensing process to build the national nuclear waste repository.

The measure was approved by voice vote and could be approved by the full committee.

But Titus, who opposes the project, said that she does not see the bill coming to the House floor given that Pelosi also has a history of siding with Nevada Democrats on the project.

“It may pass out of committee,” Titus said Thursday. “I don’t think it will ever get to the floor.”

“Pelosi has always been opposed to it; she’s been on our side all along” Titus continued, adding that the delegation will be watching developments closely.

“We take nothing for granted, we fight it every step of the way,” she said. “But we didn’t want to break our pick on this because we’ll have to fight down the road.“

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. 2579 – A bill to direct the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to carry out programs and activities to ensure that Federal science agencies and institutions of higher education receiving Federal research and development funding are fully engaging their entire talent pool, and for other purposes.
S. 2563 – A bill to improve laws relating to money laundering, and for other purposes.
S. 2547 – A bill to prohibit Federal agencies from using Government funds to pay for expenses at lodging establishments that are owned by or employ certain public officials or their relatives.
S. 2541 – A bill to amend the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to authorize advance appropriations for the Indian Health Service by providing 2-fiscal-year budget authority, and for other purposes.
SEN. JACKY ROSEN
Legislation sponsored:
S. 2549 – A bill to allow nonprofit child care providers to participate in the loan programs of the Small Business Administration.
Legislation co-sponsored:
S. 2579 – A bill to direct the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to carry out programs and activities to ensure that Federal science agencies and institutions of higher education receiving Federal research and development funding are fully engaging their entire talent pool, and for other purposes.
S. 2578 – A bill to increase the participation of historically underrepresented demographic groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education and industry.
S. 2548 – A bill to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to address and take action to prevent bullying and harassment of students.
S. 2546 – A bill to amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 to require a group health plan or health insurance coverage offered in connection with such a plan to provide an exceptions process for any medication step therapy protocol, and for other purposes.
S. 2541 – A bill to amend the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to authorize advance appropriations for the Indian Health Service by providing 2-fiscal-year budget authority, and for other purposes.
REP. STEVEN HORSFORD
Legislation sponsored:
H.R. 4518 – To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to strike the provision of the American Opportunity Tax Credit that denies the credit to students with felony drug convictions.

 

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