Like refugees returning from an eight-year exile, Democrats took control of the House of Representatives Thursday, eager to tackle a broad agenda that includes immigration reform, stronger health care policy, addressing climate change, and the elephant in the White House, President Donald Trump.
The new House, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is younger, more ethnically diverse and more female than ever before, a harbinger of hope for some of a new era in Washington. And after two years of Republican control of the White House and both houses of Congress, Trump’s critics feel Democratic control of the House restores checks and balances to the federal government.
Among the newcomers — Rep. Susie Lee of Nevada, a Democrat.
In a written statement, Lee talked about taking the oath of office.
”I was reminded how grateful and humbled I am to have the opportunity and what an enormous responsibility this is—especially at this divisive time in our country’s politics,” she said.
“Reopening our unnecessarily shuttered government must be our first course of business. Thousands of families, including many in Nevada, are suffering as a result of this partisan brinkmanship. The House has already passed legislation that would re-open the federal government, now the Senate must send this bill to the President’s desk.”
Lee defeated perennial candidate, Danny Tarkanian, a Republican. Tarkanian abandoned his primary challenge of then-U.S. Sen. Dean Heller in favor of a run against Lee in the general election, at the tweeted direction of Trump. Tarkanian’s loss prompted Tarkanian’s wife, Amy, to launch a tirade at voters and Trump during her husband’s election night concession speech.
Heller went on to lose his race to Jacky Rosen, a Democrat who joined Catherine Cortez Masto Thursday in the U.S. Senate. It’s the first time Nevada has been represented by two women in the upper chamber. Both women are Democrats.
“I’m thrilled to welcome Representatives Lee and Horsford to the Nevada delegation and welcome back Representatives Titus and Amodei and Senator Rosen,” Cortez Masto said in a statement. “Together, we’ll work to ensure that the voices of all Nevadans are represented in the Halls of Congress. I look forward to working with my colleagues in a bipartisan manner to pass legislation that puts Nevada and its people first.”
Returning to Congress Thursday was U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, who lost his seat in 2014 to Cresent Hardy, a Republican. Hardy lost in 2016 to Democrat Ruben Kihuen, who opted not to run for re-election after allegations of sexual harassment against a campaign staffer surfaced. Horsford defeated Hardy in a rematch of their 2014 battle, with Horsford the victor.
Horsford has promised the Democrats will “flip the script” in Washington, and acknowledged that while the Democratic agenda likely won’t make much headway in the Republican Senate or with Trump, “we have to put these ideas forward” to set the groundwork for “when we elect a new president in 2020.”
Horsford joins his former colleagues Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat, and Rep. Mark Amodei, the only Republican member in a delegation that mirrors the changing political leanings of the state. Titus hopes for bipartisan cooperation, but also emphasizes the importance of the Democratic House moving an agenda forward, even if it can’t pass the Senate.
Titus will also chair a subcommittee that will be one of many arms of the new Congress investigating the Trump administration. But “we can’t just investigate, we’ve also got to legislate,” Titus has said.
Hoping for cooperation, or gridlock?
How are special interests setting priorities in a state that appears to be losing its purple hues in favor of blue?
The Las Vegas Metro Chamber, which traditionally represents the conservative interests of small business in Clark County, is looking for cooperation in this new Congress, says Associate Vice President of Communications Cara Clarke.
“The Las Vegas Metro Chamber hopes to see bipartisan cooperation that is productive on issues that are important to Nevada’s economy including passage of transportation investments to help fund the construction of Interstate 11 from the Nevada border to Phoenix, initiatives that will help small businesses grow, and legislation that will spur innovation, such as Smart City technologies.”
But Michael Schaus of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a free-market think tank, predicts gridlock will rule the day in D.C.
“Because it’s a divided Congress, it makes national politics all the more important,” says Schaus. “Stalemate becomes the political modus operandi.”
That’s good for NPRI, which is hoping for no movement on the tax front.
“Because it’s a divided Congress, this is one of the best things that can happen. You won’t have any sweeping changes. Democrats won’t increase taxes. Republicans won’t cut,” Schaus says. “It gives stability to an economy that’s been growing at a pretty good rate. It’s stabilizing if business knows there’s nothing sweeping on the horizon.”
“While I think local politics are going to be more important, the national economy is going to have a big impact on us,” Shaus adds. “That’s a lesson we learned ten years ago. If nothing happens, we can get on our feet and get going here locally.”
Nevada’s population is increasingly Hispanic and its resort industry is critically reliant on immigrant labor.
“The Las Vegas Chamber has long been in favor of comprehensive immigration reform that allows businesses to access the workers they need to operate their companies,” says Clarke.
But Schaus predicts immigration reform is going nowhere.
“You have people on one side who want to build a wall and people on the other side who want amnesty, which leaves no room for nuanced policy.” he says. “From an economic standpoint, bringing more people in legally would be good for the economy and businesses. Making it easier for people to come here legally would help.”
Health care reform is already on the agenda for the House, which intends to hold hearings on Medicare for All — for the very first time ever.
The Nevada Hospital Association, which says its members are being buried by the cost of uncompensated care, did not respond to a request for comment.
Clarke says she’s not aware of an official chamber position on Medicare for All.
“I think we would be very concerned about the significant costs it would add to the federal budget,” she said.
The chamber offers its own health plan to businesses of all sizes, Clarke added.
Health care is a “good opportunity for Federalism,” says Schaus of NPRI.
“States should be tackling it,” he says. “What works in California doesn’t work in Nevada. Heath care is a good opportunity for local politicians to recognize that nothing is going to happen on a federal level and be more innovative, which would be a great thing from our perspective.”
“On the federal level, it’s so easy to run up deficits, on the state level, people really have to grapple with economic realities,” he says.
The Las Vegas Metro Chamber is pledging vigilance when it comes to derailing the threat posed to Las Vegas by a proposed nuclear waste repository just 90 miles away.
“… the Chamber is watching to make sure that any proposal to fund or restart Yucca Mountain as a repository for nuclear waste is taken off the table and stopped in its tracks,” says Clarke.
NPRI sees it differently.
“We’d love to see Washington say to Nevada ‘you control your own backyard.’” Schaus says, of a backyard that is “85 percent controlled by the federal government.”
“There are good things that can be done with Yucca,” he says. “But that’s a decision, frankly, people in Washington shouldn’t be making on our behalf.”