Each member of Congress gets at least one ticket for a guest to the president’s State of the Union address, and Nevada lawmakers are eager to leverage their plus-ones to send a political message.
From federal workers affected by the shutdown to Nevadans with pre-existing conditions and immigration advocates, Nevada Democrats are leaning into the symbolism.
Democrats, however, are not the only ones using Nevada residents to make a political point. President Donald Trump invited the daughter and grandchildren of a Reno couple whose accused killer is believed to be an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador.
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto will bring Dr. Michael Moradshahi, a licensed psychologist currently working in the Indian Health System (IHS) in Reno, who is one of the 800,000 federal workers whose paychecks were withheld during the shutdown.
“He represents the over 3,000 federal employees in Nevada whose lives were thrown into chaos by the senseless government shutdown,” said Cortez Masto in a statement. “During the shutdown, he missed a paycheck, was forced to balance the financial concerns of his family and agonized over the medical needs of his patients.”
Moradshahi is one of 24 federal workers and spouses who met with Cortez Masto in Reno in early January to discuss the impacts of the government shutdown.
Indigenous communities were especially affected by the shutdown even apart from interruptions to the Indian Health System Services. Amber Torres, the chairman of the Walker River Paiute Tribe, said payments from the Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance program, which provides participants with cash for shelter, utilities, and other basic needs, were cut off during the shutdown. With almost 60 percent of the tribe, unemployed Torres said the program is a lifeline for many.
“We are not a big casino tribe, so we don’t have any supplemental income coming in,” Torres said during the shutdown, adding that the tribe would have to recover from the harm inflicted by the shutdown. “We can’t just start over.”
Cortez Masto isn’t the only Nevada lawmaker using their guest ticket as a jab against the current administration. Sen. Jacky Rosen is inviting Tanya Flanagan, a Nevadan with a pre-existing condition. Flanagan is a three-time cancer survivor who works for Clark County as a Public Information Administrator. Rosen argued that the president “needs to see first-hand the lives that he is putting at risk by his repeated attempts to undermine and repeal the Affordable Care Act.”
“Tanya is a brave woman who has defeated cancer on three separate occasions, and while the Trump Administration continues to find ways to dismantle our health care system, she is working tirelessly as a health care advocate by courageously sharing her story,” Rosen said in a statement.
Rep. Dina Titus took a note from former president Barack Obama’s playbook and left an empty seat for victims of gun violence. Titus announced she would leave her guest chair empty at tonight’s State of the Union address to honor the victims and survivors of the October 1 mass shooting which left 58 dead and 527 wounded on Las Vegas Strip; she hopes the president will see the empty seat as a reminder of the “deadly consequences of inaction” on gun control.
“Over a year has passed since the deadliest shooting in modern American history, and Republicans in Congress have refused to take action to reduce gun violence,” said Titus in a statement. “Now that Democrats control the House, we will pass laws that expand background checks and ban bump stocks. I hope President Trump notices this empty seat and recognizes the deadly consequences of inaction. This seat is for the 58 souls who did not make it home that night, the hundreds who were injured, and the entire Las Vegas community who responded with love and showed the world that our city will always be strong.”
Rep. Steven Horsford, whose mother immigrated to New York from Trinidad as a child, invited Pastor Jose Pagan of Centro Christiano El Shaddai, an advocate who works with the Las Vegas immigrant community.
As a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Rep. Susie Lee emphasized her commitment to veterans, bringing along Marine Corps veteran Sergeant Isaac Saldivar.
After his military service, Saldivar attended a for-profit college which unexpectedly closed when he was three classes away from graduating, causing him to lose two years of GI Bill benefits.
“Sadly, Sergeant Saldivar’s story is similar to that of thousands of our veterans who come back home looking for an education only to be preyed-upon by for-profit institutions,” Lee said in a statement.
Republican Rep. Mark Amodei was reportedly traveling and unavailable Tuesday morning.