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The U.S. Capitol at sunset on November 25, 2007. (Courtesy/vgm8383 under Creative Commons)

The nation got a taste of the 2020 election cycle last week when the House Democrats passed sweeping government reform legislation that includes provisions designed to make it easier to vote, expand campaign finance disclosure and tighten congressional ethics rules.

House and Senate Republicans panned the measure as a Democratic power grab designed to preserve their majority in the lower chamber. Senate GOP leaders are not expected to take up the bill.

In the Senate, Republicans continued their push to confirm conservative judges with little support from Democrats.

The House Democrats’ bill—given the legislative number H.R. 1, which is among the first 10 bills typically saved for the priority of the speaker—passed 234 to 193 with all of Nevada’s House Democrats supporting the bill. Republican Rep. Mark Amodei opposed the measure.

“I voted against H.R. 1, because this legislation is a constitutional overreach that limits free speech and weakens election security,” Amodei said in a release. “It comes as no surprise that groups across the country are adamantly opposing this legislation.”

Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske signed onto a letter with 15 other GOP secretaries of state addressed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy opposing the measure.

“This unnecessary bill federalizes and micromanages state election systems, unconstitutionally and unwisely interferes with the authority of the states, and restricts the choices of our citizens in conducting elections,” the letter said.

Passage of the House bill sparked 2020 election sparring among the party campaign arms. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released ads praising the votes of Democratic Reps. Steven Horsford and Susie Lee, the newest members of the delegation.

“Today, Rep. Susie Lee voted to crack down on big money in politics to rein in Washington’s corrupt political system and make our government accountable to the American people again,” the DCCC said. “With this vote, Rep. Lee helped to pass essential reforms to address dark money in politics, make voting more accessible and increase government transparency.”

An identical ad was released for Horsford.

Lee represents Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, which has flipped between the two parties twice since it was created in 2003. It also tends to see a spike in Republican voters, compared with Democrats, in presidential election years. President Donald Trump won the district in 2016.

Horsford served one term representing Nevada’s 4th Congressional District, before losing his seat to Republican Cresent Hardy. He won the seat back in 2018.

National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair blasted out an email condemning Horsford’s vote.

“Steven Horsford promised to work for Nevadans, but today’s vote shows he’s only working for himself,” Sinclair said. “By voting to funnel public funds to his campaign, Horsford’s proven he’s right at home in the swamp.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has a history of opposing campaign finance regulations that he says stifle free speech, has indicated he does not intend to have the chamber take up the bill. Among McConnell’s concerns with the measure: he opposes the proposal to revamp the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which he argues would make policing election violations more susceptible to partisan abuse.

The bill “would give the sitting president the chance to name the chairperson of the FEC, abandoning the current practice of rotating chairpersons,” McConnell said on the Senate floor last week. “And this chairperson would get broad new powers — like the sole authority to issue subpoenas and compel testimony and the ability to hire and fire the general counsel with just two more votes from just one party. Make no mistake: The Democrats are envisioning a hostile takeover of the body that regulates political speech — designed to tilt the playing field in their direction.”

Provisions in the Democrats’ bill designed to make it easier to vote include language to create automatic voter registration across the country, expand early voting, simplify absentee voting, designate election day a federal holiday and modernize the voting system.

Along with reforming the FEC, including reducing the number of commissioners to five from six, the bill also would require organizations spending money in elections — including super PACS and tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups — to promptly disclose donors who have given $10,000 or more during an election cycle.

Ethics provisions include language to permanently ban both House and Senate members from lobbying either house of Congress after they retire.

Motion to recommit

Democrats remain divided over whether to reform or abandon the motion to recommit (MTR), which gives the minority a final attempt to amend legislation. “Some people want to get rid of it, some people want changes,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts.

MTR’s typically don’t pass and are often used by the minority to embarrass the majority. But so far this year, Republicans have twice successfully used the MTR to add provisions to Democratic measures, which prompted Democrats to contemplate a change, though nothing is imminent, McGovern said.

Pelosi has sought to crack down and keep the Democrats unified against what she calls “gotcha” votes. And the Democratic caucus’ discipline on voting against MTR’s has improved. Only six Democrats voted last week for the MTR the Republicans put up for a vote on H.R. 1, which would have added non binding language that said “allowing illegal immigrants the right to vote devalues the franchise and diminishes the voting power of American citizens.” None of those six Democrats were from Nevada.

Lee voted for both MTRs that passed and she was the only Nevada Democrat to vote to add a provision to a gun control last month that would require that Immigration and Customs Enforcement be notified of undocumented gun purchasers.

Asked whether she would support a change, Lee said in an email that she intends to represent her constituents, irrespective of where her party leadership is on a given vote.

“The people of Southern Nevada sent me here to solve the pressing problems that their families face on a daily basis,” she said. “With that in mind, I am certain that my constituents are not interested in the insider partisan games and internal rules changes. I will cast my votes with my constituents in mind, as I have done.”

Horsford, who helps count votes on Majority Whip Jim Clyburn’s team, indicated he was open to a change, but left open what that would be.

“This is an abuse of a procedural tool in a bad faith attempt to derail our efforts to bring down drug prices, reduce gun violence and get dark money out of politics,” he said in an email. “As a Senior WHIP, I will continue to work with leadership on a path forward.”

Rep. Dina Titus, the longest serving member of the delegation, said she would be reluctant to change the MTR.
“I am hesitant to do that because what goes around comes around,” Titus said. “These are institutional traditions for a reason, that work, and you’re not always in the majority.”

She also noted that the GOP has done a better job using the MTR than Democrats did when they were in the minority.

“I think Republicans are much more effective in using it against us than we were in using it against them,” Titus said. “People in swing districts are afraid to vote for something that can be used in an ad against them.”

Republican Rep. Mark Amodei said changing it would smack of hypocrisy.

“It bothers me when you have some pretty long-standing rules on any side if somebody says ‘now that we’re the majority instead of the minority, we’re changing the rules,’” Amodei said. “I think it would send a bad signal to the process and the institution.”

Yucca Mountain

Nevada’s congressional Democrats last week introduced legislation that would require consent from state, local and tribal governments to move forward with the construction of building a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

Under the bill, consent from the various levels of government would be needed in order to tap the Nuclear Waste Fund. The fund, financed by ratepayers, was established under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. First passed in 1982, the law initially directed the Department of Energy (DOE) to site, construct and operate a geologic repository for high-level waste. The law was amended in 1987 — known colloquially as the Screw Nevada Bill — and directed DOE to focus its work solely on Yucca Mountain.

The project stalled because of a lack of congressional funding—an effort spearheaded by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But the Trump administration has sought to restart the project and has sought funding for Yucca in each of the three budget blueprints it has submitted to Congress.

“No state or community should have a nuclear waste dump forced upon them,” Titus said in a release. “I’m reintroducing this legislation as part of our strategy to put an end to the Yucca Mountain project once and for all.”

Amodei — who, unlike his fellow Nevada federal lawmakers, supports funding for Yucca to study the safety of the project —said that he was not asked to be an original cosponsor. But he did not rule out supporting the measure. “If it gets to the floor, we’ll take a look at it,” Amodei said.

Titus said that the strategy to pass the bill entails working with other members to include language in the consent measure to authorize the Department of Energy to build new temporary storage facilities, which can accept waste from shuttered nuclear plants where it’s currently being stored around the nation. She said that such language would help build support for the legislation.

“That’s what we’re working on doing,” Titus said, adding that she doesn’t expect any action on the measure in the immediate future. “Then we’ll start to move” the bill through the legislative process.

All members of the delegation, except for Titus, cosponsored a bill introduced last week that would prevent the project from moving forward until the White House Office of Management and Budget conducts a study that is submitted to Congress on the economic benefits of alternative uses of the Yucca site, and after Congress holds a hearing on the benefits of alternative uses.

“This bipartisan bill…requires Congress to explore alternative options for Yucca Mountain, such as turning the site into a data storage center or into a facility used by our military for unmanned aircraft systems, Sen. Jacky Rosen said in a release. “Any of these options could help create jobs without threatening the health and safety of Nevada families.”

Senate confirmations

The Senate confirmed three appellate court judges last week, all opposed by Cortez Masto and Rosen. The Senate has now confirmed a record 34 appellate court judges.

The most controversial was Chad Readler who was nominated to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. He helped lead an effort at the Department of Justice that sided with a group of 20 Republican attorneys general who filed a lawsuit in Texas that argued that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional after Congress removed the tax penalty associated with the law’s mandate to buy health insurance. A judge earlier this year ruled in favor of the AGs. The case, which threatens the ACA’s protections for pre-existing conditions, is being appealed.

In addition to Readler’s role with regard to the ACA, Cortez Masto gave a speech on the floor Wednesday in which she cited his defense of the Trump administration’s travel ban and effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children from deportation and allows them to work.

“In his current role at the Department of Justice, Chad Readler led the legal briefs for some of the departments most extreme positions,” she said.

“This nominee has shown that he’s willing to carry water for this administration,” she continued. “I oppose his nomination because Americans deserve a judge who respects the rule of law and interprets the law based on statute, not the political needs of this or any other administration.”

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. 649 – A bill to require the Secretary of Energy to obtain the consent of affected State and local governments before making an expenditure from the Nuclear Waste Fund for a nuclear waste repository, and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
S. 721 – A bill to prohibit the Secretary of Energy from taking any action relating to the licensing, planning, development, or construction of a nuclear waste repository until the Director of the Office of Management and Budget submits to Congress a study on the economic viability and job-creating benefits of alternative uses of the Yucca Mountain site, and for other purposes.
S. 690 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to make the child tax credit fully refundable, establish an increased child tax credit for young children, and for other purposes.
S. 684 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to repeal the excise tax on high cost employer-sponsored health coverage.
S. 683 – A bill to establish a voluntary program in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to encourage consumers to purchase or lease new automobiles made in the United States, and for other purposes.
S. 682 – A bill to restore the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order and its net neutrality protections.
S. 668 – A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to waive coinsurance under Medicare for colorectal cancer screening tests, regardless of whether therapeutic intervention is required during the screening.
S. 667 – A bill to impose sanctions with respect to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and for other purposes.
S. 663 – A bill to clarify the status and enhance the effectiveness of immigration courts, and for other purposes.
S. 662 – A bill to provide access to counsel for unaccompanied alien children.
S. 661 – A bill to provide for enhanced protections for vulnerable alien children, and for other purposes.
S. 648 – 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. 479 – Prevent Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act outlaws a form of animal maiming and torture known as crushing.
S. Res. 100 – A resolution recognizing the heritage, culture, and contributions of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian women in the United States.
SEN. JACKY ROSEN
Legislation sponsored:
S. 721 – A bill to prohibit the Secretary of Energy from taking any action relating to the licensing, planning, development, or construction of a nuclear waste repository until the Director of the Office of Management and Budget submits to Congress a study on the economic viability and job-creating benefits of alternative uses of the Yucca Mountain site, and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
S. 707 – A bill to amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to include in the Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices a section on reproductive rights, and for other purposes.
S. 692 – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to repeal the excise tax on medical devices.
S. 682 – A bill to restore the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order and its net neutrality protections.
S. 668 – A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to waive coinsurance under Medicare for colorectal cancer screening tests, regardless of whether therapeutic intervention is required during the screening.
S. 649 – A bill to require the Secretary of Energy to obtain the consent of affected State and local governments before making an expenditure from the Nuclear Waste Fund for a nuclear waste repository, and for other purposes.
S. Res. 100 – A resolution recognizing the heritage, culture, and contributions of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian women in the United States.
REP. DINA TITUS
Legislation sponsored:
H.R. 1544 – A bill to require the Secretary of Energy to obtain the consent of affected State and local governments before making an expenditure from the Nuclear Waste Fund for a nuclear waste repository, and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 1595 – To create protections for depository institutions that provide financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses and service providers for such businesses, and for other purposes.
H.R. 1587 – To direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to enter into a 10-year arrangement with the National Academy of Sciences to conduct and update biennially a study on the effects of State legalized marijuana programs, and for other purposes.
H.R. 1581 – To amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to include in the Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices a section on reproductive rights, and for other purposes.
H.R. 1560 – To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to make the child tax credit fully refundable, establish an increased child tax credit for young children, and for other purposes.
H.R. 1549 – To protect the rights of passengers with disabilities in air transportation, and for other purposes.
H.R. 1546 – To amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to establish a minimum period for early voting in elections for Federal office.
H.R. 1485 – To authorize the Secretary of Education to carry out a program to increase access to prekindergarten through grade 12 computer science education.
REP. MARK AMODEI
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 1619 – To prohibit the Secretary of Energy from taking any action relating to the licensing, planning, development, or construction of a nuclear waste repository until the Director of the Office of Management and Budget submits to Congress a study on the economic viability and job-creating benefits of alternative uses of the Yucca Mountain site, and for other purposes.
REP. SUSIE LEE
Legislation sponsored:
H.R. 1619 – To prohibit the Secretary of Energy from taking any action relating to the licensing, planning, development, or construction of a nuclear waste repository until the Director of the Office of Management and Budget submits to Congress a study on the economic viability and job-creating benefits of alternative uses of the Yucca Mountain site, and for other purposes.
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 1560 – To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to make the child tax credit fully refundable, establish an increased child tax credit for young children, and for other purposes.
H.R. 1544 – A bill to require the Secretary of Energy to obtain the consent of affected State and local governments before making an expenditure from the Nuclear Waste Fund for a nuclear waste repository, and for other purposes.
REP. STEVEN HORSFORD
Legislation co-sponsored:
H.R. 1619 – To prohibit the Secretary of Energy from taking any action relating to the licensing, planning, development, or construction of a nuclear waste repository until the Director of the Office of Management and Budget submits to Congress a study on the economic viability and job-creating benefits of alternative uses of the Yucca Mountain site, and for other purposes.
H.R. 1544 – A bill to require the Secretary of Energy to obtain the consent of affected State and local governments before making an expenditure from the Nuclear Waste Fund for a nuclear waste repository, and for other purposes.

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