Cortez Masto Wants Oversight On President's Family Pardons

What's it like to be a senator in Washington, D.C. these days, which seem nothing if not full of reality-show chaos, endless drama and bitter division?

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., was sworn in a little more than a year ago. And it does take a while to find your footing and gain power in Washington.

But she is starting to make herself known.

Abuse of the Pardon Prevention Act

She just introduced a bill this week that would require the Justice Department to provide all records of an investigation into a presidential pardon within 30 days of that pardon.

The bill is called the Abuse of the Pardon Prevention Act. She told KNPR's State of Nevada that is specifically for people who are close to a president, including family members. 

“We want to make sure there is no politics involved," she said, "That somebody isn’t getting a benefit incurring favor because they have a familiar relationship with a president.”

Cortez Masto believes the current president and future presidents should have the power to pardon but there should be a check on the power. 

“I think it is important for purposes of our democracy and for public understanding,” she said.


Within months of President Donald Trump's inauguration, some Democrats started pushing for impeachment. 

Support comes from

This weekend former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid said in an interview with NPR that he doesn't think the country would be well-served by trying to impeach President Donald Trump.

Cortez Masto said she is trying to stay out of that discussion because of the role the Senate would play in any impeachment proceedings.

“I want to remain neutral," she said, "I want to make sure that I have the ability to carry out my authority as a trier of fact in the Senate and I don’t want to appear or let anyone argue that I'm somehow biased that I should not participate.”

In addition, she said her focus is on representing Nevada. 


The senator said that focus includes reaching across the aisle to find common ground with Republicans to solve problems.

She said that is how the legislative process was set up but it is not happening. She said partisan gridlock is stopping lawmakers from addressing real problems.

“For the last year that I’ve been there, which quite often feels like it's been three years because there is so much going on, I know that if we are going to get back to really addressing the issues that Americans have and Nevadans have it requires us to come together and work together,” she said.

She also said that Republican leadership has allowed the abdication of the legislative process. Cortez Masto said that lawmakers used to work through bills, debate legislation, pass that legislation and send the bill to the president's desk for a signature. Now, she said more of that power has been transferred to the president.

Affordable Housing

One issue that Cortez Masto would like federal help in solving is Nevada's growing affordable housing problem.

Both Las Vegas and Reno are suffering from a lack of affordable housing.

“Unfortunately, there are barriers at the federal level to us really addressing this need in Nevada,” she said.

Cortez Masto said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and the administration as a whole are trying to cut back spending on essential grants for local governments trying to bring in more housing and subsidies for low-income people who need housing help.

She wants to look at Carson's proposal that could triple rent for some low-income people. If the proposal goes through the regular channels of legislation, it will come through the banking committee Cortez Masto is on and she wants to see HUD's data on rent.

“If we could all get our oars rowing in the same direction, including this administration and HUD, we could really address the affordable housing crisis that we have in this country, including here in Nevada,” she said.

Yucca Mtn. 

When Harry Reid left the Senate, there were concerns that the roadblock to the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain would go with him.

There has been some movement in the House to restart the process, but so far nothing has materialized.

Cortez Masto said "nothing is going to happen" at the site. She said it is a waste of dollars all the way around.

“We have a problem in this country addressing the waste and we have to do something about it but that doesn’t mean we shove it down a state’s throat,” she said.

The senator said there are other states that are interested in storing the waste and she believes those solutions should be looked at.

Cortez Masto said she and Sen. Dean Heller are working together to educate other senators about the site and why it is not scientifically sound to bring the nation's nuclear waste there.

Election 2018

While she works well with her Republican colleague Dean Heller, that is not stopping Cortez Masto from endorsing his opponent Democrat Jacky Rosen in the upcoming election.

Cortez Masto called Representative Rosen "passionate" and "intelligent." She said she would be an incredible senator. 

She would also like Rosen to be part of the Senate to increase the ranks of women in the governing body. 

Legalized Marijuana

While state after state has started legalizing recreational marijuana, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been against the legalization and has said he is looking at doing away with the Obama-era Cole Memo, which instructed the federal government to take a hands-off approach when it came to marijuana in states that legalized it.

Colorado Senator Cory Gardener protested that move and was able to get the Trump Administration to back away. Cortez Masto said Senator Gardener's efforts included Nevada.

She said she is working with Gardener and Senator Elizabeth Warren to craft legislation that would address the marijuana problem more directly, including making it so the federal government had to respect the states that have legalized marijuana, prevent the Department of Justice from using money to enforce laws against medical marijuana, and fix the banking and tax issues that marijuana growers and distributors have.

A Run for President?

A lot of Democrats have already been rumored as possible candidates for president in 2020.

Cortez Masto said she is not one of them.




Catherine Cortez Masto, U.S. Senator, D-Nev.

KNPR and NPR Thank-You Gifts including t-shirts hoodies and cap

More Stories

KNPR's State of Nevada
KNPR's State of Nevada