Election 2018
Indy Q&A: Amodei faults his party for punting too much to executive branch
By
Luz Gray
Jackie Valley
Megan Messerly
Riley Snyder
Michelle Rindels
Mark Amodei, R-Nev., during an editorial board meeting with The Nevada Independent on Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Rep. Mark Amodei said his fellow congressional Republicans are engaged in the “ultimate act of hypocrisy” for punting decisions on major issues such as health care and immigration to the executive branch after blasting former President Barack Obama for taking action on the same topics.

Amodei, the outspoken lone Republican in the state’s House delegation, also told The Nevada Independent in a 90-minute editorial board-style interview on Monday that he would support some kind of a state-sponsored or state-run health insurance plan in lieu of the government assisting major companies such as Aetna or UnitedHealthcare, and that Nevada’s Sen. Dean Heller should have done a better job explaining his votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year.

He didn’t mince words when it came to criticizing Republican congressional leaders for inaction on immigration overhaul proposals and kowtowing to the Trump administration’s wishes on other policy areas.

“My party spent a ton of time griping about overuse of executive authority and stuff that Congress should be doing, okay?” he said. “I see it as the ultimate act of hypocrisy on the behalf of Republicans in the Senate and their leadership and in the House and their leadership to be sitting back now and going, ‘Well the administration can handle that immigration stuff now and they can handle that health care stuff.’”

First appointed to office in 2011 to replace Heller, Amodei has spent nearly the last seven years as arguably the state’s most colorful — and least filtered — congressional representative. He easily defeated former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle’s primary bid in June and will face off against Democrat Clint Koble in November in the state’s ruby-red 2nd Congressional District, which includes Reno and the bulk of rural Northern Nevada.

Amodei, who was Trump’s 2016 campaign chair in Nevada, has often walked his own path outside of the party rank-and-file — he initially opposed a Republican-led effort to replace the Affordable Care Act last year, and he was an early backer of a discharge petition to bring a bill implementing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to the floor of the House.

He also told the Independent that he supported the stalled 2016 ballot measure requiring background checks on almost all private party gun sales or transfers, and while blaming backers for not communicating with the FBI during the election process, said the state still needed to pick up the pieces and enforce the voter-approved measure.

“It’s almost like the laws are on the books, you just got to enforce them,” he said.

So what keeps him coming back? Amodei, who’s running for re-election, said it’s simple: “The work is important. The culture sucks.”

He sees a silver lining amid the Washington dysfunction.

“Everybody out there is trying to be an Olympic partisan athlete, and they’ve got those talking points tattooed on their forehead and, by God, they’re going to do them better than the person doing them on the other side,” he said. “And so there are opportunities in there to — guess what? — get some stuff done, mostly Nevada stuff. A lot of it has been lands bills.”

Amodei said he’s committed to seeking another term as congressman despite his name being floated for any possible federal judgeships that open in Nevada. The Republican said he’d like to serve through the first term of Trump’s presidency. As for how long he’d want to stay after that point, the 60-year-old didn’t make any concrete predictions.

“I’m much closer to the end than I am to the beginning,” he said, referring to his political career.

The seasoned lawmaker didn’t hesitate to offer his perspective on a variety of hot-button issues, including immigration, health care, and school safety, which we’ve summarized below.

State-sponsored Health Insurance

Amodei said that he would support some sort of state-sponsored or state-run health insurance plan, pointing to the Legislature’s interim study on such a proposal. He noted Gov. Kenny Guinn’s plan to address the medical malpractice insurance crisis in Nevada by creating a special state underwriting association and suggested that the state could take a similar approach when it comes to health insurance.

The congressman noted the crisis last summer when it looked like 14 of Nevada’s rural counties were going to have no insurance options available to them on the exchange and said the state needs to take matters into its own hands.

“I’m kind of at the point where I’m like, ‘Let’s put some good heads on it, let’s create our own company and let’s go,’” Amodei said.

He said that he’s “very cynical” about the ability of national health insurance companies to provide care for Nevada’s residents, citing high executive pay and corporate profits at the same time companies decline to serve certain populations on the exchange.

“I seriously question the ability to fashion a federal solution that is really comprehensive and effective across the whole spectrum of what different markets look like,” Amodei said. “I’m just really kind of worn out and hoping that United(Healthcare) and Aetna and all of those people really give a shit about what goes on in Nevada.”

Heller and the Affordable Care Act

Amodei said that he thinks Heller should address why he changed his mind last summer amid Senate Republicans’ attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Early in the summer, Heller stood alongside Gov. Brian Sandoval and said he would not vote to open debate on a repeal-and-replace proposal because he thought it would threaten health care for millions of Americans and many Nevadans. Then, a little less than a month later, he voted to open debate on the same proposal with no alternative proposal he seemed comfortable with in sight.

“It’s like, hey, it’s pretty clear you changed your mind, you probably ought to tell people why,” Amodei said, adding, “But if it goes unaddressed, I just think it’s something that you’ve got the ability to address, and you probably ought to.”

Immigration

Amodei was one of about two dozen Republicans to sign a “discharge petition” that would have forced votes on immigration reform bills even if Republican leaders didn’t want to bring the measures up for discussion on the floor. While the measure fell two votes short, he credited it with pressuring leadership to eventually bring two DACA bills up for votes that ultimately failed.

He pushed back against criticism that “we’re all bad Americans because of the discharge petition.”

“Tell me who’s winning with the present state of affairs in border security,” he said. “Tell me how visa reform is unnecessary because that’s all great. … like these things are all metastasizing and it’s time to step up and try to do something.”

He said he was frustrated that a new version of an immigration bill — which he contends is almost identical to one the Senate advanced a few years ago — was a flop in the House recently.

“That’s the height of my frustration — that instead of moving the ball five yards down the field, you’re going to say no unless it’s a political touchdown for whatever your definition of a political touchdown is,” he said.

Amodei also expressed support for allowing people who are in the country illegally to apply for citizenship.

“You can never say the word ‘path’ anymore. ‘Path’ has become a dirty word like comprehensive, like whatever, but there ought to be a way to earn status,” he said. “Status means you get a green card, which means under the plans that I support, once you get it, if you decide you want to go apply for citizenship, then you walk in there and apply for citizenship like anybody else.”

Border Security & Family Separation

Asked to detail what provisions of border security he would support, Amodei immediately referenced Trump’s 2016 campaign pledge to build a wall along the border with Mexico, saying Congress had already approved funding for “fencing” along appropriate portions of the border. He all but called a full border wall along the 1,300 mile distance infeasible, given the immense costs and time it would take.

“The logistics of basically setting the stage to undertake a major capital improvement project 1,300 miles long on that border, are things that are not going to fall in place even during a two-term Trump presidency,” he said.

Amodei also called the Trump administration’s short-lived family separation policy a testament to the need to change the country’s immigration system, and said the administration needed to find a policy for undocumented families that was “defensible.”

“If your policy is ‘We’re going to take custody of minors and adults that are in the same family together,’ then you better have a way of processing them that is expedient, and is also, quite frankly, defensible,” he said. “Because whether you looked at those pictures (and said) ‘eh, that’s not so bad’ or ‘Oh my God, that’s worse than an animal control facility’, it’s a failure.”

Mueller Investigation

While other members of Congress have paid rapt attention to news stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Amodei said the probe wasn’t in his “top 10” list of most pressing issues.

“Listen, if I have to vote on impeachment or something, then I’ll come in and talk to you about every single crossed T, dotted I,” he said. “Absolutely. But right now, I’ve got other fish that I’m frying that I think are very important for Nevada, and for the nation.”

Amodei compared the Mueller investigation — which Trump has decried as a “witch hunt” and “illegal scam” — to the special counsel investigation into former President Bill Clinton, and that complex investigations “take forever in real time.”

“I wish it was over,” he said. “I wish he would come out and say ‘I think the guy’s a dirty rotten SOB and we’re prosecuting him,’ or ‘We haven’t gotten anything we think we can make stick and we’re done.’ Just tell me whether it’s a Chevy or a Ford. But you don’t get that.”

Still, Amodei was critical of the leadership of the Department of Justice, calling it a “mess” at the upper echelons and blaming actions from the Trump and Obama administrations for lowering trust in federal law enforcement.

“I just think the ramifications throughout the operational scheme of the Department of Justice, because of the uber-politicization over the last two administrations, have meant that truth and justice quite frankly, have become a very political thing, when I’d like to think historically they weren’t,” he said.

Executive action on the Affordable Care Act

Amodei said that Congressional Republicans “spent a ton of time griping about the overuse of executive authority” under the Obama administration, but now are fine with President Trump doing the same thing.

“I see it as the ultimate act of hypocrisy on the behalf of Republicans in the Senate and their leadership and in the House and their leadership to be sitting back now and going, ‘Well the administration can handle that immigration stuff now and they can handle that health-care stuff,’” Amodei said.

He said the House’s bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act wasn’t perfect but that it “started down the road.” He said that if Congress doesn’t like the ACA it should change the law, not allow the administration to whittle it away through executive action.

“It’s like, what the hell? You can’t turn around and ask that guy to do the same thing you bitched to high heaven at the previous guy for doing,” Amodei said.

How he got to a ‘yes’ on the House ACA repeal bill

Amodei said that he went from a “no” to a “yes” on the House’s bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act after a conversation with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Seema Verma and requesting that she speak with the state about the proposal to allay its concerns.

When the original bill came out, Amodei said that he sent it to Richard Whitley, the head of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. According to Amodei, Whitley estimated that within four years it would cause the state to be half a billion dollars in debt, so Amodei put together a one-page document based on the state’s projections explaining why he was going to vote no on the health-care proposal.

Then, he got a call from the president. Amodei said that he was pulling up to Gate 19 in the Delta gates at Reagan National Airport when an unknown phone number appeared on his phone. He answered, and a young woman told him to hold for the president.

“I’m like sitting by my window in row 17 going, well you know some people think it would be a neat thing to have the president call you and in true lucky me fashion I’m sitting here like this with a plane full of people. I’m thinking, ‘Shit, if they know I’m talking to the president they’ll probably slug me or something,’” Amodei said. “So I’m in fear of my own life but anyhow.”

He said that the president started off with, “Mark, how’ve you been? Blah blah blah. Who’s this Sharron Angle running against you? We really need you on the health-care thing.” He said it was “nothing of substance.”

“Just kind of like, ‘Hey bro, we’re getting ready to have a barbecue, we’d really like you to come have a hot dog,’” Amodei said. “My words, not his.”

Later that day, House Speaker Paul Ryan asked to meet with Amodei after the House’s evening votes. Amodei said that Ryan asked him where he was at on the health-care bill and Amodei pointed to his one pager.

Then, Amodei said, Ryan looked at the ceiling and said, “I think we put something in there for expansion states.”

Amodei said that he’d like to see it if it’s in there, so the next morning he got a call from Tom Price, the then-U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary. He said that in “very un-Washington-like fashion” HHS sent over a highlighted document with the details and he received a call within 30 minutes from Verma to walk him and a legislative aid through the bill.

He said that she explained that the bill would allow people on Medicaid expansion to keep their coverage as long as they remain eligible until they turn 65 and that the state would be able to continue enrolling individuals under Medicaid expansion for the next two years. Amodei said he then asked Verma to call Whitley and walk him through the proposal as well.

Then, around noon, Vice President Mike Pence asked to see Amodei after the House’s afternoon votes. When he got to his office, Pence asked Amodei where he was at on the heatlh-care bill. Amodei told him he needed one more thing — for Verma to talk with the state and for her to send Amodei a letter saying who she talked with, when she talked with them and what they talked about.

“Pence looks at me and says, ‘I want him to have that by 5 o’clock today,’ and she says, ‘Okay,’ and he looked back at me, and then I said, ‘Okay, I’m a yes,’” Amodei said.

Amodei said that later that evening he was walking by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s desk who also stopped him to ask him where he was at on the health-care bill. Amodei told him he was a yes. The next day, McCarthy walked in and said the House would be voting on health care, Amodei said.

“I say all of that to say this: I started out as a no, got to a yes based on the things that were at the top of my screen,” Amodei said.

Temporary Protected Status

The Trump administration announced the cancellation of the Temporary Protected Status program for several countries hard-hit by war, natural disaster and other adverse circumstances. Amodei said he thinks “there’s got to be a better solution” than deporting hundreds of thousands of people for which America has “become a home.”

“I can tell you that our evaluation and the final analysis will not be which way are the political winds blowing, and I think we’ve demonstrated that with some of the larger immigration issues,” he said about TPS. “How do you fix this in terms of people who have an investment here? Look at it as a whole.”

He said if people don’t have a serious criminal record and have been contributing to their community, they should have a chance to earn legal status.

“But everybody goes to the polar ends like, ‘look what the criminals have done,’” he said. “And it’s like, well, then treat ‘em like criminals, but that’s not most of them.”

A delegation of TPS holders recently visited Washington D.C. and reported that they were heartened by their conversation with Amodei. He said he’s willing to meet with them whenever he’s in Nevada, even if they’re not his constituents.

“I’m the only Republican left on the House from Nevada, so quite frankly where district lines are mean nothing. They never really did before,” he said.

Government Shutdown

When Trump tweeted last week that he’s willing to shut down the government to try to fix immigration, Amodei said he took it seriously enough to have his staff check with a White House legislative liaison and figure out what other congressional offices were hearing.

He noted that he voted in favor of a shutdown in 2013.

“It didn’t work so good. I’d like to think that we’ve learned from our mistakes,” he said. “So quite frankly, if it was a tool that I thought would work in this instance, maybe I’d look at it again but I haven’t seen anything to change the analysis. At the end of the day, it didn’t accomplish a damn thing.”

Amodei said if the president vetoes a spending bill in an effort to extract an immigration compromise, he’ll suggest putting up a clean DACA bill — one with no other policy strings attached. And then, he suggested holding consecutive votes at separate times for the various elements of comprehensive immigration reform, including border security and agricultural workers.

He wants members on the record for their stances on each policy within immigration reform.

“People like you can say, ‘[why did] you vote the way you did?’ Then if your only response is, ‘Well, it’s kinda the talking points we agreed on in Congress,’ then you’re going to get your head ripped off,” Amodei said.

School Safety

Amodei expressed confidence that the federal government would pony up more money to bolster school safety, but he stopped short of supporting a more controversial way to do so — arming teachers.

The Republican, who has a concealed-carry permit, carefully worded his response to that question, emphasizing that it’s not something he takes lightly.

“The responsibility, in my mind, that comes with carrying a firearm in public spaces is a very big one,” he said.

Amodei said he’d have to see bill language pertaining to the topic before making a decision, but he hinted at what might be acceptable. For instance, if a bill required peace officer-equivalent training for teachers, Amodei said “maybe it’s okay”; whereas, if the legislation allowed teachers to carry guns after an eight-hour concealed-carry course, he said, “I’d have to think about it.”

He was more resolute about gun background checks. Amodei said he supports gun backgrounds checks and is troubled that the voter-approved ballot question has not been implemented.

But when it comes to school safety, the congressman said a multi-faceted approach will be necessary to curb the bloodshed.

“While some people would like to think it’s all guns, and some people like to think it’s all mental health, quite frankly, the reality is it’s several moving parts,” he said. “Mental health is a piece. Obviously, firearms is a piece. Obviously the Internet is a piece.”

The federal government has poured more money into various school-safety initiatives, Amodei said, but he anticipates that trend to continue as the need increases.

“The question, as it often is in all education things, is how much are the feds paying for it? How much is the state paying for it? How much are the (school) districts paying for it?” he said.

Latino Outreach

Amodei said he’s been trying to engage with the Latino community through low-key breakfast meetings with Hispanic business owners.

But he acknowledged his party isn’t doing the best it can in connecting with Latinos.

“I would just say that, for a long time, the general Republican brand has had an incredible challenge trying to figure out where they’re at, for instance, with the Hispanic community, and that challenge in my view is still unmet and I can’t really think of a good reason what it should be.”

He said he wants to reach out because he recognizes that Hispanics comprise more than a quarter of the state’s population, regardless of whether they can or will vote for him.

“You noticed I haven’t said what percentage of the voters you are? Even though you are a good percent, you’re 25 percent of the population, which means that my concern with those issues are because you’re 1 in 4, not because you’re 1 in 10 voters, or 12 in 100 voters or whatever happens to be,” he said. “These are issues I need to be working if I’m gonna be your representative.”

Bundy

Amodei said he hadn’t heard that Ryan Bundy — the son of controversial rancher Cliven Bundy — was running for governor, but said he didn’t have a problem with him running for the office.

“In this state, there’s some minimum qualifications and a cash requirement when you go see the secretary of state, and it’s there for you,” he said. “So, welcome to the party, Mr. Bundy.”

INDY FAST FACTS Dean Heller Job: U.S. Senator Party: Republican In current office: 2011-present Birthdate: May 10, 1960 Education: University of Southern California (B.A.) Other public offices held: Member of the U.S. House of Representatives Nevada's 2nd Congressional District (2007-2011) Nevada Secretary of State (1995-2007) State Assemblyman (1990-1994) Total donations: $24,223,634 (1/1/05-5/23/18) Top donors: Station Casinos $117,900 Votesane PAC $92,000 MGM Resorts International $74,500 Blackstone Group $48,400 Capital Group $38,800 Credit: Center for Responsive Politics
INDY FAST FACTS Brian Sandoval Job: Nevada Governor Party: Republican In current office: 2011-present Birthdate: August 5, 1963 Education: University of Nevada, Reno (B.A.) Ohio State University (J.D.) Other public offices held: U.S. District Court Judge (2005-2009) Nevada State Attorney General (2003-2005) Nevada Gaming Commission Chair (1999-2001) Nevada Gaming Commission Member (1998-2001) State Assemblyman, District 25 (1994-1998) Total donations: $5,035,808 (1/7/11 - 7/5/17) Top donors: Caesars Entertainment $245,000 Station Casinos $158,072 MGM Resorts International $160,000 Wynn Resorts $80,000 Marnell Properties LLC $70,000

From the Editor

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Jon Ralston
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