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Congress has big issues to tackle this year. Here's what Nevada Sen. Cortez Masto thinks

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) attends an election event on Tuesday, several days before narrowly winning her race.
Anna Moneymaker
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Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) attends an election event on Tuesday, several days before narrowly winning her race.

It’s a new year, but right off the bat, it doesn’t feel like we’re getting much of a break.

Mass shootings in California have rocked Asian American communities; strong winter storms left a wake of devastation on the West Coast; the war drags on in Ukraine; and with fears of a possible recession, it looks like Congress is going to fight over the debt ceiling.

And Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is in the middle of it all. She joined State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann to answer our questions and yours.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On guns and mass shootings

I know, just like so many Nevadans, that gun violence is really personal for us in Nevada, particularly in Las Vegas, because of October 1. My niece was at that Harvest Festival, I'll never forget it. I don't think any Nevadans will ever forget what it was like at that point when we were waiting to hear about our loved ones. But listen, I do think and I think, like so many Americans, are concerned, and rightfully so, about this increase in gun violence. That's why it was important for us in the Senate to pass bipartisan gun safety legislation to safer communities. My priorities always and will be to keep our family safe. I did as Attorney General, … that bipartisan Safer Communities Act was a great first step in the Congress really coming together in a bipartisan way to start focusing on how we reduce gun violence. You know, I know in Nevada, I'm very proud.

We are, you know, a Second Amendment state, we work to uphold the Second Amendment. But we also recognize that you can be a responsible gun owner and come together in the state by passing universal background checks. We passed Red Flag laws, we've worked to address gun violence. And I think at the federal level, we need to continue to do so. The bipartisan Safer Communities Act was that first step in doing just that and more obviously needs to be done.

I support banning bump stocks. We saw the devastation of that right in our own community. So there are things we have to continue to work together to really focus on how we reduce gun violence.

On voter rights in Nevada

Let me just say I look forward to working with our new governor to support and always help Nevadans. But I also know this after talking with so many Nevadans that aren't going to stand for anybody, any politician, anybody that wants to restrict our right to vote. Nevada has shown year after year that our elections are safe and secure. We've seen that on both sides of the aisle from a Republican Secretary of State to the courts in the state of Nevada, showing that there hasn't been [any widespread] fraud. So limiting access to mail-in ballots is a clear effort, I think, to discourage people from participating in our elections. And I guess my question is: Why fix a system that isn't broken?

On rising costs of gas and food

It's still the kitchen table issues that they're concerned about, rightfully so, like my family. … It's the high costs of that because of inflation. That's why it was important for me to continue, really first, fight to lower costs. And we did that with the Inflation Reduction Act, when we lowered costs around health care. I was hearing from so many seniors in particular about the high cost prescription drugs. And so we were able to, in a bipartisan way here, pass legislation that lowers those prescription drug costs for seniors, because we now allow prescription negotiation at Medicare, we kept the cost of insulin for so many, indeed. And that, to me, is really a first step and many that we need to do to lower costs of families, including energy costs.

This is my outrage, like so many in the valley and in my family, why are we still having gas prices that are higher than the national average? You know, this is a question that I brought to big oil in Energy and Natural Resources when I had the opportunity to question them, and was saying to them, ‘Why aren't you putting more fuel into the supply chain to help us lower these costs right now?’ Because instead, what I saw were record profits from big oil, and they were taking those profits and giving them back to their shareholders instead of helping people like Nevadans who are paying so much for gas. And so to me, this was one of the reasons why not only am I honored to be back … this is the area that I'm going to focus on. So one of my first pieces of legislation I just dropped yesterday was really asking the FTC to investigate big oil. And what were the causes and still the causes of these high gas prices? Is it because there's some sort of collusive anti-competitive activity going on? Is the price gouging going on? Are they limiting the resources because they're giving those profits to their stakeholders? So that legislation I just introduced yesterday, and I look forward to doing more to address this issue to lower costs for all of our working families in Nevada; it's an all of the above approach.

On the debt ceiling

The U.S. government needs to pay its debts and live within its means; it has to. But here's what's happening. And if the U.S. government is forced to default on its existing obligations, this isn't new spending. This is an existing obligation that has been incurred under previous administrations, both Republican and Democrat, that we have to pay. And there are right wing Republicans in the House that are trying to prevent us from paying that debt right now.

But if that default occurs, and we're forced to do that, because of those right wing House Republicans, what does it mean? That a typical worker will lose $20,000 in their retirement savings. If we are forced, the U.S. government is forced to default, that the average cost of a mortgage could go up by $130,000. It's possible that 3 million workers could lose their jobs nationally. I mean, I can go on and on and on. So we have to address this issue, pay our debts, but we can also address future spending and work together through the budget and appropriation process. Not this process, lifting the debt ceiling, but the budget appropriation process, to figure out how like every family, we live within our means. Now, I started doing that, Joe, because in the inflation Reduction Act that I just talked about, that we passed in a bipartisan way. It was important for me not only to help lower costs for families, but address the deficit in that legislation, we reduced the deficit by $300 billion. And we have to, like all families, learn to live within our means and to figure out how, working together, we can continue down that path.

On ending daylight saving time

That is still a controversial issue, unfortunately, here in the Senate, believe it or not, there are some senators who do not support it. So I don't have an answer for [KNPR listener Kim, who wrote in on Thursday] yet. I do know that there is still a discussion amongst the senators now and moving forward on the House side. So I don't have an answer for her yet, but happy to follow up on that.

On the public lands bill

I would welcome everybody to learn really what's all included in the lands bill, because the lands bill actually brings all the key stakeholders together to focus and find that balance where we can work to protect our public lands, we can create more middle class housing, we help ensure Nevada communities can grow responsibly. And we're hearing from all the key stakeholders on how we address this, including our water managers, right, they are at the table with us, this is an important issue for us, because we do have to plan our future. Unfortunately, for Nevada, and some of the Western states, unlike the Eastern states, most of our land is owned by the federal government. So whenever we have to plan, and we do for the future, which all of our local governments do, we have to work with the federal government and pass federal legislation to get that done. No other state other than a Western state has to do that. So it requires us all planning together, thinking long term, and really focusing on what we can do to manage what I've just said, manage our growth, along with our public lands, our environment, our housing, our water needs, our economic development, all of the above. That's the intent here. And that's why it has taken some time for all of us stakeholders on our county lands bill to come together and really work towards that goal.

On abortion access in Nevada

This is one of the issues, Joe, that really crossed party lines. It didn't matter whether you were Republican or Democrat, Independent, didn't matter where you are female and male, because in 1990, voted to codify Roe v. Wade. And two thirds of the voters at that time did that. This is such an important issue that so many … feel that the right of a woman to choose and make decisions about their health care should be protected. And so when the repeal of Roe v. Wade happened … It had an impact on Nevadans because they had not only fought to codify Roe v. Wade, but over the years, felt that it was protected for their children, for their daughters and their grandchildren in the future. Once the repeal happened, there were so many young girls that were waking up, and girls and women waking up, that had less rights than their mothers and their grandmothers. And so they came out and their fathers came out and their partners came out. I mean, it was just an incredible thing to see across the state of Nevada.

Because what we were seeing out of the opinion that came out of the Supreme Court, along with some of my colleagues, my extreme right colleagues in Congress, they were going to take it a step further, they weren't just going to rely on the Supreme Court decision, they were going to introduce a federal abortion ban. And they did, if you remember Lindsey Graham did. And this was something I was talking about, saying they're not going to be done, they are going to go and try to limit our rights here. And they're going to come into Nevada, even though we made the decision in Nevada that we want to allow women the right to choose, they're going to try to tell us what to do. So that's what they're doing right there. They're still moving forward to an abortion ban. There's a congressman right now who wants to criminalize women who are coming to the state of Nevada, because they're seeking health care. He wants to criminalize our doctors in the state of Nevada, because of providing health care to women around reproductive freedom rights. And so that's why I have introduced, and we're going to reintroduce it, the Right of Women to Travel for Health Care Act, which protects those women coming into our state and protects our doctors.


Guest: Catherine Cortez Masto, senator, Nevada

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Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the audience engagement specialist for Nevada Public Radio. She curates and creates content for knpr.org, our weekly newsletter and social media for Nevada Public Radio and Desert Companion.
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