Asked if she regretted not jumping in the race to challenge Sen. Dean Heller, Dina Titus had a succinct answer.
“Every day. Every day I regret it,” she said.
But the 68-year-old Democratic congresswoman said Monday during a recording of the Indymatters podcast that she made the right decision to not run in a primary election against establishment-backed freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen for the right to challenge Heller, widely considered the most vulnerable Republican incumbent up for re-election in 2018.
“But I'm like Joe Biden, you know. Every day he regrets not running for president, but he knows it was the right decision, and I feel the same way,” she said.
Titus, who spent nearly 20 years in the Legislature before her first congressional run in 2008, is facing a relatively easy re-election bid in the state’s heavily Democratic 1st Congressional District. But she’s looking beyond Nov. 6 — favorable projections that Democrats will take back control of the House could give Democrats a chance to launch investigations and block portions of President Donald Trump’s proposed agenda.
Titus previewed what she hopes the party tackles if they retake one or both houses of Congress, as well as a host of issues ranging from her support for a “Medicare-for-all,” universal health insurance program to her prediction on the fate of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi after the midterms.
Among congressional Democrats, Titus had some of the strongest words against fellow Nevada representative Ruben Kihuen after news reports surfaced in The Nevada Independent and BuzzFeed about the freshman lawmaker’s unwanted sexual advances toward young women.
Titus, who said last December that Kihuen “would not be able to work in my office” because of his alleged behavior toward women, said Monday that she had conversations with other, unidentified young women who experienced similar interactions with Kihuen that she found credible and had encouraged them to “do what they think is right and come forward.”
Responding to a Nevada NewsMakers interview with Kihuen last week where the former state senator did not rule out a potential bid for a future office, Titus said his history with women — and potentially more accusers — would undoubtedly be again in the spotlight.
“I think if he does decide to run again, that will all come back out,” she said. “And I suspect there may be other women who may be willing to tell their stories if he does.”
She made similar comments about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination was rocked by Christine Blasey Ford’s disclosure to lawmakers that the judge sexually assaulted her more than three decades ago when they were both high school students. Titus said she doubted the revelation would prevent Kavanuagh’s nomination from moving forward — barring a switch in votes from Republicans such as Maine Sen. Susan Collins or Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski — but said the allegations should nonetheless be disqualifying.
“It’s not like we’re saying he can’t get a job flipping burgers somewhere,” she said. “This is the highest court in the land and yeah, you should be on a pedestal, and yes, you should meet the highest standard. So yes, I would find that unacceptable. I wouldn’t want him working in my office.”
Congressional leadership and Yucca Mountain
Titus in February was named the Democrat’s Ranking Member of an economic development and public buildings subcommittee of the House’s primary Transportation Committee, and said she hoped to take over as chair if Democrats win back control of the House in 2018. Given the historic level of congressional retirements — more than 60 — Titus said her position in the House (currently the 244th most senior member) will jump significantly after the 2018 midterms.
“If you look at the number of people who are leaving, it’s about 60, so my seniority will increase 60 even if nobody else wins or loses,” she said. “So in a very short time, I think I’ll be positioned to be in a pretty good place to help Nevada, help District 1 and fight things like Yucca Mountain from a position of strength rather than on the back row.”
As for the subcommittee, Titus said one of her top priorities would be to pepper administration officials over the Trump Organization’s lease with the federally owned Old Post Office in the District of Columbia, where it houses the Trump International Hotel.
“First thing I want to do is have them come in and tell us why they're not paying the rent,” she said.
She also predicted a slowdown of efforts to open Yucca Mountain as a long term storage facility for spent nuclear waste, a proposal once declared “dead” by former Sen. Harry Reid but has seen new life under Trump and an incessant push by Illinois Rep. John Shimkus to reboot the project.
Titus said a Democratic wave would see Shimkus lose clout in the House, and predicted there was little appetite in the Senate to approve funding for the project while Heller faces re-election. She said her talks with California representatives and others in the House could lead to an “interim” storage bill and take the pressure off Nevada.
“I think what we do instead of playing defense is go on the offense, come with an interim storage bill, and then get some people doing something positive that gets the attention away from Yucca Mountain,” she said.
Even if the Democrats win control of the House, one question left unanswered will be that of new leadership. Sitting majority leader and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi has seen growing opposition within the last year, fueling speculation she may be ousted regardless of results in November.
The divide has become especially pronounced as the party — and support for Pelosi — splits both among progressives and representatives in more conservative districts, who have increasingly felt the pressure of Republican attacks targeting the former speaker.
Those GOP attacks appeared in Nevada when ads linked to Senate Republican leadership painted Rosen as too liberal for the state because she sided with Pelosi on taxes.
As of last month, the number of Democrats who say they won’t vote Pelosi for speaker sat at 42.
Titus predicted that whether or not Pelosi stays depends largely on how House Democrats fare in the 2018 midterms.
“If it’s very close, it will be a fight,” she said. “If we don’t take the majority, she’ll be gone. If we do take the majority in a large way, I think she will stay. She’s got many women supporting her, she’s got the California delegation, she’s already meeting with the people who are getting elected.”
One complicating factor — if not Pelosi, then who?
“I don’t see anybody else who can get enough votes to throw her out. Maybe they don’t want her, but there’s no heir apparent,” she said.
Titus said she hasn’t decided whether or not she will back Pelosi should the Democrats win control of the House, though she has sided with the majority leader in past votes for Speaker.
Asked about who she might support in a 2020 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, Titus said Biden would be her candidate of choice, though was unsure if the 75-year-old former Vice President would actually decide to throw his hat into the race.
If it came down to supporting a celebrity candidate, such as Oprah Winfrey or Michael Avenatti — the attorney for porn actress Stormy Daniels, who alleged to have had an affair with Trump in 2006 — Titus was less enthused, but said she would still support the Democrat in the race over the current president.
“The worst Democrat would be better than Trump. So I guess I could, but that wouldn't be my ideal choice for somebody to be president. I'm kind of old-fashioned,” she said.
The ascent of self-proclaimed democratic socialists such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who won an unexpected upset over longtime New York Rep. Joe Crowley in a July primary, has stressed the tensions within the ranks of the Democrats over what policies and objectives the party should focus on moving forward.
Titus, the state’s only co-sponsor of a proposed “Medicare-for-all” or single-payer health insurance system, said she didn’t label herself a socialist but welcomed the ascent of younger people into party ranks.
“I think we need to get back to the notion that the Democrats have always had, much different from the Republicans, that we are a big tent, and we bring a lot of people in, and as a result of that, there’s going to be friction and going to be disagreement,” she said.
Titus said she believed adoption of a “public option,” a government-run health insurance plan that would compete on insurance markets set up by the Affordable Care Act, would start the country down the road of a single-payer health-care system. She said she was frustrated that Democrats were not able to include the provision in the initial passage of the health insurance law, and the fact that her party “didn’t have the votes to change it, nor the will to open it up.”
Although cautious about the specifics of a “Medicare-for-all” plan, Titus said she was encouraged by some estimates that a government run health-care system would have lower overall costs to individuals than the current system, despite higher taxes.
“There are some pretty good estimates that if you raise just a small health tax on employers and individuals, what they would pay in that tax would be considerably less than what they pay annually in health-care premiums,” she said. “So I think you can pencil it out, but I think you’ve got to at least start talking about it. Every other place in the world, that’s a civilized society, can do it — I don’t know what our problem is.”
Should Democrats successfully retake the House, the question of whether or not to impeach President Donald Trump will loom large, especially as the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller drags into the midterm and beyond.
For her part, Titus, who twice voted against tabling motions to impeach Trump, said that such a move would be “kind of a fool’s errand” given the high bar to successfully remove a president and the low chances of finding 66 Senators to vote in favor of removal.
“I think there's enough evidence out there, but I don't think you'll rush to impeach, certainly not without any Republicans on board and not before the Mueller investigation is completed,” Titus said.
She said that because impeachment is a political process rather than a legal one, even if there is evidence proving the president is unfit to serve — a view she shares with a number of her Democratic colleagues — the impeachment process could never proceed without a “smoking gun.”
If Trump fires Mueller, Titus said the move would create a “constitutional crisis,” but didn’t think it would move the needle for congressional Republicans to remove him from office.
When asked if she had any regrets about not doing more to stop former Assemblyman and state Sen. Mark Manendo’s well-documented pattern of sexual misconduct during their overlapping time in the Legislature, Titus said she did not.
“I’ve always felt that young women can come to me and talk to me,” Titus said. “I have talked to other people besides Mark Manendo about their behavior towards interns. I don’t think there was ever a time that anyone was afraid to talk to me about it or that I would do something about it or speak to the person involved in it.”
She added that “maybe I should have intervened on the Assembly side, but it just seemed like that was their problem. I was dealing with it on [the Senate] side.”