WASHINGTON — Elvis Presley, wearing a smirk and a shiny gold tuxedo, guards the door outside of Dina Titus’ Capitol Hill office.
It used to be Liberace standing there, but the cardboard cutout of that pop culture icon fell victim to excessive selfies and got too worn down. When Titus couldn’t find another Liberace, she settled for a cutout of Elvis to adorn her doorway.
“You’d be surprised how many people do take a picture with that, Democrats and Republicans,” she said in a recent interview in her Washington office. (Indeed, minutes later, a group of visitors could be spotted snapping selfies with the King.)
The Nevada Democrat likes to have a little Las Vegas flair to spice up the otherwise bland, white hallway of the Rayburn Office Building where she spends her days in the nation’s capital.
Titus — now in her 5th term in Congress — is the longest-serving member of the state’s delegation. That was a title long held by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but his exit from Congress in 2017 was followed by a slate of fresh faces arriving on Capitol Hill to represent Nevada.
Now Titus has the distinction of being “dean” of the delegation. “It means I’ve been around the longest,” she said of the title.
“The Republican from the north is somebody I’ve known ever since he was in the state Legislature,” she said, referring to the state’s lone Republican congressman, Mark Amodei. “So we are friends and work together. The two new members, Steven [Horsford] is coming back so he’s not really a freshman. And Susie [Lee] — I hope they look to me for some guidance, but we work well together as a team,” Titus said.
The team scored a win this week, when the House passed an energy appropriations bill that included zero funding for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.
It’s a near-constant battle for Titus and her Nevada colleagues, and she’d like to eliminate the Yucca plan once and for all.
“I think that instead of trying to kill it every time, be on the defensive, we have to be on the offensive and give people an alternative,” she said. “If we can come up with a solution for interim storage and then permanent storage based on consent … then that’s an alternative, we can be on the offense for that and then you can get the attention away from Yucca.”
The anti-Yucca effort lost its most powerful advocate when Reid stepped down, but Titus said that’s shifted the defensive effort to the House.
“We have two new senators, they’re in the minority,” Titus said. “Harry’s gone, so we have to fight it here and I think we’ve done a good job, we’ve had really good victories keeping it out of the appropriations bill.”
Reid’s departure changed the status of Nevada’s delegation in Washington in other ways, too. But Titus still considers it an influential crew.
“Nevada still is a swing state, so there’s a lot of attention on it for that. It’s an early state in the presidential process, so there’s attention on that. I’ve been around in politics — if not in Congress — a long time, so you can’t minimize that. We’ve got a governor and state officials who are all Democrats, so that reinforces us here in the House. So I’m not sure that we’re less powerful, I just think the dynamic has changed.”
Given Nevada’s No. 3 spot (after Iowa and New Hampshire) in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, White House hopefuls are courting Titus.
“Right now, all the candidates are coming through. They all want to meet with me, that’s flattering to think that my endorsement would mean something,” she said. But she’s not showing her cards yet.
“I will. I’m not going to wait until after the caucuses, I’ll endorse,” she said. For now, she intends to “ask them all about where they stand on Yucca Mountain and just see how knowledgeable they are about issues in the West.” So far, they’ve “pretty much all said they’re opposed” to the nuclear waste site.
Titus is eager to get a new president.
“My district is very anti-Trump, as I am personally,” she said. She’s been sparring with the administration from her new perch as chairwoman of a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on economic development, public buildings and emergency management.
She’s investigating whether Trump has illegally profited from the lease of government property for his Washington, D.C., hotel in violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.
Like other Democratic leaders, she’s been frustrated by the administration’s lack of responsiveness. “We keep going back after them to try to get the records. Hopefully we’ll be successful. If not, there’s always subpoena power,” she said.
But unlike some of her colleagues, she isn’t calling for impeachment proceedings against the president. Not yet, anyway.
“I don’t want to make my investigation moot by just putting it all in [the Judiciary Committee] to go forward with impeachment, so I’d say let some of these play out and when the time is right, I won’t hesitate to call for that.”
Having multiple oversight inquiries “strengthens our argument for the impeachment if a number of different members are involved in the investigation,” she added.
“Then, when the time comes for the impeachment, we’ve got it all ready.”
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Titus intends to endorse ahead of the Nevada caucus.