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

The House last week voiced its disapproval of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw forces from northern Syria that left Kurdish U.S. allies the target of a Turkish invasion and also rebuked the Hong Kong government for cracking down on democracy protests.

Those votes came as the Senate failed to override a veto of legislation that would have terminated Trump’s emergency declaration at the Southern border. Both Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen voted for the measure, which failed to get the 67 votes needed to succeed. 

But it was the vote on the Syria resolution that had the most chins wagging in Washington. The House voted 354 to 60 with 129 Republicans, including Rep. Mark Amodei, joining with Democrats to criticize the president’s decision.

The overwhelming vote unsettled the president, according to Speaker Nancy Pelosi who publicly sparred with Trump after a contentious meeting at the White House after the vote Wednesday. 

“I think the president was shaken up” by the vote, Pelosi said.

Syria

Off the House floor Thursday, Amodei told reporters that he had been urged by Republican constituents to stand up to Trump on Syria. He also said he hears from the same constituents consternation that he is not a co-sponsor of a resolution introduced by Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Maryland to censure California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the current face of the impeachment inquiry.

“So you tell me what loyalty to the White House means,” Amodei said. “It’s like, you better be on Biggs’ bill and, by the way, throw him over the cliff on Turkey.

“But like everything else now you gotta be jet screaming and afterburners lit all one way or the other as opposed to where most things are, which is not all one way or the other,” he continued.

Amodei has said he supports Congress conducting oversight concerning a July phone call where Trump appeared to ask the Ukrainian president to interfere in the 2020 election by pressuring him to investigate a political rival in exchange for the release of military aid. He insists on letting the process take its course before drawing any conclusions.

On CNN, Amodei took a wait-and-see approach Thursday on whether the agreement negotiated by the White House and Turkey would address the situation. But he indicated that he was concerned for the safety of the Kurdish people.

“They’re jumping the gun to some extent,” Amodei said of critics of the White House deal.

“But I’ll tell you, it’s not a great start, that’s for certain,” he continued. “The stuff that we know that are objective facts are not things which lead you to think that this is kind of what everybody had in mind, in terms of a troop withdrawal, and everything will be fine…and the Kurds will be fine. We know that. That is not all the case so far. So let’s see where it ends up in another 72 hours.”

His comments come as reports out of northern Syria have described a growing humanitarian crisis with civilian areas taking fire from Turkish forces. 

The White House-Turkey deal included a five-day cease-fire to allow the Kurds to leave the area, but critics such as Rep. Steven Horsford argued the agreement is inadequate and raised concerns about what comes next for the Kurds who fought with the U.S. to debilitate Islamic extremist group ISIS. 

“The president’s international strategy is non-existent, and Republicans and Democrats agree that it’s no way to treat our allies, Horsford said. “The Kurdish [people] have been fighting with us to eliminate ISIS, and it is very clear that both the House and the Senate reject the president’s lack of a foreign policy strategy.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week that he believes the Senate should act, but he rejected the idea of taking up the House resolution and prefers something “stronger.

One issue McConnell said he has with the resolution is that it “is curiously silent on the issue of whether to actually sustain a military presence in Syria, perhaps to spare Democrats from having to go on the record on this key issue.”   

Both Cortez Masto and Rosen want the Senate to follow the House’s lead. 

Hong Kong

The House passed three bills last week by voice vote, including one, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, that would require the State Department to report annually to Congress whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous from China to justify its special treatment under current U.S. law on trade and financial matters. 

Another bill would prevent the export of nonlethal crowd control and other weapons to the Hong Kong Police Force. A third bill condemns the Chinese government for interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs.

Rep. Dina Titus, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has met with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam whose government sparked pro-democracy demonstrations by seeking to change the law to allow extradition to China. The bill was withdrawn, but unrest has continued.

“I don’t have a good feeling about how this is all going to work out, so I think we have to stand by those folks,” Titus said. “You know, we recognize the special status for a long time and need to honor that.”

Amodei said that his office sought out dual nationals and Hong Kong business interests to make sure the measures would be effective without unintended consequences.

The people he talked to said “‘there are pros and cons to everything, but as far as a good start, or something that’s not completely politicized or irresponsible, this is a good way to go.’ So we went with it.,” Amodei said.

The bill now goes to the Senate. McConnell has not said if he would take up the bills, but he has been critical of China over the Hong Kong riots. 

“This is a seminal moment, and it’ll be interesting to see how the Chinese manage it,” McConnell said on conservative Hugh Hewitt’s radio show in September.

Cortez Masto praised the House action. She is a co-sponsor of the Senate version of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

Desert National Wildlife Refuge 

A group including Democratic state Sen. Melanie Scheible visited all members of the Nevada congressional delegation urging them to oppose the military’s plan to expand into the Desert National Wildlife Refuge north of Las Vegas.

“We want Congress to say no,” Scheible said of the plan to expand the Nevada Test and Training Range to include about 250,000 additional acres of the wildlife refuge and give it primary control over roughly 850,000 acres it currently has access to, according to the group.

Congress will get to weigh in on the expansion in next year’s annual defense policy bill and the group is making their case ahead of that fight.

“The Nevada tests and training range is large enough as it is,” said Scheible.

Congressional lawmakers were sympathetic to the group, but also want to accommodate the military’s national security needs in the state. 

Cortez Masto said she had discussions with advocates on both sides of the matter during the recess. 

“My goal has been to bring all the stakeholders together and including with Nellis Air Force Base and figure out is there a way that we can find a compromise,” she said.

Others also spoke of compromise.

“I don’t want the Air Force just taking it over, being imperialistic with no good reason,” Titus said. “And I think there’s probably some kind of compromise that they can work out.”

But Scheible was skeptical and argued that activists have already compromised by allowing the military access to 850,000 acres of the refuge.

“I’m, as a legislator, my instinct is to compromise,” Scheible  “And I think that what people sometimes don’t realize until they learn more about the issue is that this is the compromise, okay, that we’ve already expanded the test and training range to include parts of the National Wildlife Refuge.”

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. 2627 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow an above-the-line deduction for attorney fees and costs in connection with civil claim awards

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 2621 – A bill to provide for the restoration of legal rights for claimants under holocaust-era insurance policies.

REP. DINA TITUS

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 4722 – To authorize contributions to the United Nations Population Fund, and for other purposes.

H.R. 4680 – To amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to simplify the financial aid application process, and for other purposes.

REP. SUSIE LEE

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 4722 – To authorize contributions to the United Nations Population Fund, and for other purposes.

H.R. 4674 – To amend and strengthen the Higher Education Act of 1965 to lower the cost of college for students and families, to hold colleges accountable for students’ success, and to give a new generation of students the opportunity to graduate on-time and transition to a successful career.

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