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Catherine Cortez-Masto: How's Your New Job?

Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto answers media questions Saturday after speaking to an immigrant rights forum put on by the Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus
Credit: Doug Puppel

Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto answers media questions Saturday after speaking to an immigrant rights forum put on by the Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus

There are so many issues grabbing the headlines these days. There’s a lot of fear and tension over immigration policies.

We are learning daily about Russia’s involvement with the election and the Trump administration.

Anti-Semitic and Anti-Muslim hate crimes are being reported all over the country.

People are afraid of losing their health insurance.

And constituents are jamming the phone lines of their Senate and Congressional representatives.

Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto – in just a month and a half on the job – has been in the thick of it.

We're asking her today, "How's your new job."

Affordable Care Act:

Cortez Masto said many people are worried about what is next for the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Her office has received many calls about it. The Republican-led Congress has vowed to ‘repeal and replace’ President Obama’s signature legislation.

One of the issues is that no one is exactly clear on what the replacement for the health care law will look like so people are fearful that they’ll lose their coverage or the cost of coverage will go up.

Cortez Masto said her opinion on the matter hasn’t changed. She said that while there are some parts of the law that are working there are parts that aren’t.

“There are strengths in the ACA that we keep, but I get there are things that didn’t work,” she said, “We should be improving upon it and I’m still willing to do that.”

The senator said there is a lot of uncertainty about what is next and what impact it will have on small businesses, insurance companies and individual policy holders. That uncertainty combined with a new dynamic on Capitol Hill and a new administration is causing people to be concerned.

“We have an administration who is putting in place many things that he promised he would on the campaign trail, whether it is good policy or not, and part of that is having an impact on our communities, tearing families apart and I think making bad public policy decisions,” she said.

President Trump's Cabinet:

Senator Cortez Masto has voted against several of Pres. Trump’s cabinet picks. But she doesn’t believe in stonewalling all of the president’s nominations as some progressives have suggested.

“I’ve said I’m going to evaluate each one on their individual merit,” she told KNPR’s State of Nevada.

For instance, she voted for Elaine Chao as transportation secretary. Cortez Masto said she met privately with Chao and found she was qualified for the position. But the senator added she was one of very few of the president’s nominees that was qualified.

In fact, Cortez-Masto is listed as one of the Senators who has opposed the most cabinet nominees.

Later in our conversation, she noted she voted against Attorney General Jeff Sessions because “he scares me.” She pointed to Session’s decision Wednesday to roll back Obama-era recommendations on transgender bathroom use in schools as exactly what she was concerned about.

“His position on and his rhetoric on discrimination and racism has always been a concern of mine,” she said.

Supreme Court nomination:

Some people are making the same argument about Pres. Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court as they are for his cabinet nominees: Democrats should do all they can to block Neil Gorsuch. Their argument is Republicans refused to let Pres. Obama’s pick for the High Court go forward. So, Democrats should drag their feet on Pres. Trump’s nominee.

Cortez Masto understands the argument because she believes the Senate did not do its job when it came to Pres. Obama’s court pick. But she believes there should be a vote on Neil Gorsuch.

“This is an important position,” she said, “It should mandate and require 60 vote threshold for senators. We should be asking questions of this individual, because I’ll tell you my biggest concern is Donald Trump has said he’s looking for someone who is going to overturn Roe v. Wade. I’m not going to stand for that.”

She believes the confirmation process should be open and transparent for everyone to hear.

Is President Trump a decoy?

There have been some suggestions from pundits that Pres. Trump and the many controversies that have swirled around him since he took office in January are being used by House and Senate Republicans as decoys, allowing them to move forward on their agenda without much scrutiny.

Cortez Masto said she has heard that theory before, and it is “possible.” However, from what she has seen in Washington, D.C., she doesn’t see that happening. In fact, she said many lawmakers are trying to figure out which way to go.

“I think there is an administration that is new to government,” she said, “It has never operated in that realm before. We have a president who has not set policy before, is not used to it. And quite frankly, as you can see flip flops on what positions he’s going to take. That makes it very difficult for anybody in the executive branch or even Congress to know what kind of lead to follow.”

But the senator does say Senate Republicans are using the turmoil of the first few weeks of the administration to change policy with a simple majority vote.

Executive orders on immigration:

Pres. Trump has signed several executive orders on immigration. One that got the most attention banned travel from seven majority Muslim countries for 90 days and stopped refugees from Syria from entering the country for 120 days. That order was put on hold by the 9 th Circuit Court.

But his second executive order on immigration still stands. And that is one the concerns Senator Cortez Masto most.

“This second one is the one that is most devastating,” she said, “It not only has an impact on people who are here, immigrants who are here, and has widened the net of who is going to be potentially detained and deported, not just the most violent, not just the criminals, not just individuals who are a threat to our security here… it could be anyone.”

Cortez Masto believes comprehensive immigration reform is the best way to fix the problems with the nation’s immigration system. She believes improving the system will improve the economy and simply kicking people out who are here illegal will hurt the nation’s and the state’s economy.

“They’ve come here for the American Dream like my family did and now they’re going to get caught up in this broader net and sent somewhere where they haven’t lived for years and years,” she said.

She applauded state and local law enforcement officials who have restated they are not immigration enforcement officers. She said law enforcement has to have the trust of immigrant communities to help fight crime.

Working across aisle:

Rep. Ruben Kihuen told KNPR’s State of Nevada that freshman lawmakers in Congress from both sides of the aisle are meeting and trying to find common ground. The senator said she is part of that effort. She has met with women in the Senate from both parties to find ways to work together.

“Right now, we have 21 female senators – the most we’ve ever had in the United States Senate… but one of the first things we did was have dinner. Republican, Democrat got together for dinner just to build relationships and start talking to one another.”

She said the women in the Senate are planning on having regular dinners and meetings to continue to build relationships and friendships to work together on solutions.  

Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto (D) - NV.

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)