Arguably the most substantial achievement of Nevada Democrats in Washington this year was thwarting efforts to restart the licensing process for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump.
And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi helped “a lot,” Rep. Steven Horsford said Wednesday.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Current staff, Horsford also dismissed concerns over whether the Democratic presidential nominee should be a progressive or a moderate, lit into the national media for overlooking the presidential race in Nevada — and warned candidates not to do the same — and suggested court cases pending against Donald Trump may be what ultimately triggers impeachment proceedings.
Yucca: “We were able to flip 11”
Last year, 14 House Democrats on the Appropriations Committee voted with Republicans to provide funding to reignite the Yucca licensing process, and Yucca funding was ultimately sent to the Senate, where it failed only because Senate Republicans were trying to protect their then-colleague Dean Heller win reelection.
This year, keeping Yucca at bay fell to Nevada’s House Democrats.
“This time we were able to flip eleven of the 14 and we defeated that amendment by one vote” said Horsford, whose fourth congressional district includes Yucca Mountain. “That’s a big deal … because they were on record having voted one way just last Congress.”
Horsford said he and his staff “worked our asses off up until the very moment the vote was taken,” adding the all-hands-on-deck approach was in effect in the offices of his Nevada Democratic House colleagues Dina Titus and Susie Lee as well.
Republicans tried to fund Yucca two more times this year, “because they’re so damned persistent,” Horsford said. Each time, Nevada Democrats were able to fend off the moves.
“I thank the leadership, particularly Speaker Pelosi, for having my back,” Horsford said.
Pelosi, Horsford, Titus, Lee and their respective staffs met to develop anti-Yucca strategy. “There were a number of times where she literally was checking with me, you know, ‘Where are we with this person? We should be good with this person. I talked with that person.’ She had my back.”
The House Speaker, Horsford said, fought on behalf of the Nevada delegation’s position “to not allow Republicans to win and screw Nevada.”
“Iowa and New Hampshire, God bless them…”
Horsford was interviewed the morning after Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate, wherein some candidates contended the policies of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are not moderate enough to defeat Trump.
Horsford all but brushed off the issue.
“People don’t care so much about where you fall on the ideological spectrum. That’s not how people talk to me about issues,” Horsford said, citing concern over more practical problems like drug prices, gun violence, income inequality, and “bringing back some of our democratic values and institutions that have been harmed by a Trump administration and Republicans in Congress who have failed to hold him accountable.”
“So I don’t quite buy into the ‘it’s this side of the spectrum or that side of the spectrum’ of what we’re fighting for. I really think it comes down to core issues that people want to hear articulated in a meaningful way that affects them.”
Horsford said he hasn’t decided if he will endorse a presidential candidate before Nevada’s February caucus.
“All I want from these nominees right now in this process,” Horsford said, becoming more animated “is to take Nevada seriously.”
“I get offended when national pundits and talking heads kind of gloss over Nevada,” he said, noting how Nevada’s diversity and workforce, especially much of it that is unionized, make the state far more reflective of the nation as a whole than the first two states in the process.
“Iowa and New Hampshire, God bless them, do not reflect the diversity of America. Nevada, and I will contend, my district, because of it’s both rural and urban and demographic diversity, reflects the country and where we’re going.”
“So my message from a Nevada standpoint, to every one of these candidates — and I’ll be meeting with several of them in the coming days before the AFSCME forum — is ‘Do not take us for granted. If you are serious about winning the nomination, you have to have a concerted effort here in Nevada. That includes a Nevada team that has local connections, and an understanding of how a caucus works.”
The candidate who wins Nevada, Horsford said, “will do so because they’ve organized every segment of our community. That means not just rallies, but actually getting out and talking to people where they are.”
Asked which campaigns specifically have failed to establish the presence he described, Horsford demurred.
He said top tier campaigns, including those of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Warren and Sanders, have been mostly doing what he thinks campaigns need to do. “But,” he added, “the candidates have to be here. Not just the campaigns. There’s a difference between just having campaign presence and having the candidate themselves.”
“People are pissed”
Biden, who has been leading the Democratic field in most polls, came to Nevada after he announced his candidacy and railed against corporate profits, Wall Street, bankers, and hedge fund managers, and said “the only people who benefit when a company does well are CEO’s and the shareholders.”
Then he went to a fundraiser hosted by MGM CEO Jim Murren, while the company was in the process of laying off employees as part of a reorganization plan the company has heavily touted with shareholders and market analysts.
Asked if he’s talked to Biden about such disparities in messaging, Horsford said “I’ve talked to all of the candidate about the issue of many of my voters feeling like the system is not working for them.”
He said especially through his seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees a broad range of programs including Medicare, unemployment benefits and Social Security, “I’m seeing how policy that has been made over a long period of time has created so much inequality, that has contributed to the widening gap between those at the very top and those that are working to literally just try to hold on.”
“People want a fighter,” Horsford said. “They don’t want just a bunch of plans. They don’t want just the idealistic ‘we’re going to come together as a nation.’ They want to fight. People are pissed, by this administration, Republicans in Congress, and a system that over time inherently has left many, many people behind.”
Between his congressional terms (Horsford won the 4th district in 2012, then lost it in 2014, then won it back last year), Horsford’s consulting firm worked for MGM.
Noting that ten years ago MGM was on the brink of bankruptcy, Horsford said “I think every company has a responsibility to its shareholders, to its employees, and to the communities that they operate in, to make sure they remain viable.”
“Do I agree with everything that they’ve done and every approach that they’ve taken? Absolutely not. But I think there is a little bit of context about what happened as part of their plan to consolidate, because some of those positions that got laid off were based on inefficiencies within the company model. They have a responsibility to address that within their company structure.”
“I have not taken impeachment off the table”
In May, after Robert Mueller went on TV to summarize his report on the investigation of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia and the Trump administration’s efforts to squelch investigations, Horsford issued a statement.
“I’ve read the report and it is clear that obstruction of justice occurred by this White House,” the congressman said at the time. “It is now Congress’ duty to take the necessary actions because no one is above the law.”
After Mueller’s testimony to congressional committees last week, several Democratic members of the House, including Titus, joined a growing chorus of calls for launching an impeachment inquiry.
Horsford is not one of them.
“I’ve never taken impeachment off the table,” he said Wednesday.
“The biggest problem with this impeachment inquiry, versus impeachment, is that many people don’t understand the difference. And sadly, national organizations, news organizations, do a very poor job of explaining the system to people.
“We are doing oversight inquiries of the administration as we speak. I’m on one of the committees doing that oversight,” Horsford said.
He also noted that the House Judiciary Committee recently cited the prospect of impeachment as grounds for obtaining grand jury information.
“I support all those actions,” he said, adding that he voted on Ways and Means to subpoena Trump’s tax returns, “which may very well part of an ultimate impeachment process.”
But if, as Horsford said in May, “obstruction of justice occurred,” why not move forward now?
“The five pending federal lawsuits that the House Democrats have against this administration” Horsford answered, referring to congressional efforts to obtain information and the Trump administration’s refusal to comply.
“I believe that with the determination of one or more of those court cases, that that, along with the Mueller report, should give Congress what it needs to make a decision on impeachment of this president,” he said.
Asked if there is a timetable, if there would be a point as the election nears when it would be too late to begin impeachment proceedings, Horsford said no.
Citing the Nixon example, Horsford said, “People thought he was not going to go, and ultimately when further information came forward, he ended up resigning before Congress could take action. So I don’t believe there’s ever, quote unquote, a date. Because there may always be information that becomes available that could change the circumstances of whether or not Congress moves to take action.”