Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Sen. Jacky Rosen has been traveling across Nevada during the August congressional recess, meeting with local and state leaders and constituents. On Wednesday, she stopped by the Sun offices to meet with the newspaper’s editorial board, discussing her time in the Senate so far, her take on local issues and her bipartisan record.
Here are excerpts from her visit.
What have you been up to during the summer recess?
I’ve been in Northern Nevada and Southern Nevada, just listening to people all around the state. I met with sheriffs and chiefs of police all throughout Northern Nevada. We had a great roundtable, hearing about the challenges they have.
They were really talking to me about issues of mental health, first of all for the community and for the people they arrest. They need mental health services in the jails. Number two, they need mental health services for the first responders and their families. They’re under tremendous pressure. They asked me for those mental health dollars, and then they actually talked to me about some of the gun safety initiatives they’re trying to do up there to make their communities feel safer. They worry about domestic violence and suicides and red flags. They’re very involved in community policing and trying to take care of the issues. So, that was a great meeting I had up there.
I’ve been meeting with community health centers and tribal communities too. I was at Walker Lake, up at Lake Tahoe, and at Virginia City, talking about the wild horses there. We’ve got a lot going on.
A report came out recently listing you as one of the most bipartisan members of Congress. What’s the secret sauce? What are you doing that other people aren’t that makes you effective in that realm?
I was ranked the fifth most bipartisan freshman when I went to Congress, and I think that my motto really is, ‘Agree where you can and fight where you must.’ Anybody who has been in a relationship, raised a family, worked in business or been a systems analyst, you have to look at how the whole system works together. You have to find those opportunities to collaborate.
Some of the bills that I’ve been on so far are lots of great veterans bills, because there are a lot of people who want to work with me on that. We’re going to allow a cybertraining track for junior ROTCs, so we can build up our cyber core for folks going into the military. We’re doing lots of things in STEM. So, there are wide swaths of people who agree with all that.
I stepped away from my career to take care of my parents and in-laws as they age. Palliative care is something that you don’t know you need until you’re in the space where you need it, either from someone who has a terminal disease, like my mother, or for people who live with chronic disease and have particular issues that need care. So, I had a palliative care caucus in the House of Representatives, and I just started it in the Senate.
We’re going to work with all these issues. Some things will be legislative, some will be using our bully pulpit to educate and inform. We’ve been talking to lots of medical schools and nursing schools about how you grow the medical professionals that work in the palliative care space and training, and even internal medicine to understand what that kind of comfort care is. I’ve found people who I might not agree with on other things, but on these things we do. And the people of Nevada, everywhere I go, say, ‘Can you find places to get along and help us?’ That’s what I’m trying to do.
That approach, where you reach out to people with whom do have common ground, have you seen any sign where that helps later when you need something from them?
Absolutely, because life is about relationships. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), I’m on the Never Again Education Act with him. So that’s fantastic, and I found out he’s really interested in career and technical education. He told me that his dad was an electrician, so the trades, all those things, he’s really interested in that. He’s a Republican obviously — he took Heidi Heitkamp’s spot — but we’ve had all these great conversations about what we can do in the career and technical education space. Once you start having conversations, like everything else, you start talking about your life, your family, and you build trust. Then, if there’s something difficult, you can sit down maybe over a cup of coffee and say, ‘Can we figure this out?’
Can you bring them over at all on gun safety, or is that one of these places where you have to fight?
I’m not sure about that. But I can tell you that with the Republicans I have been working with, you have to start somewhere. I do believe there are those folks out there, just like when I went up North and talked to the sheriffs and chiefs of police and they realized that in their community they need resources, and that they need to worry about domestic violence and suicide and the red flag laws. If you’ve ever known someone who has lost a family member to suicide, they feel very guilty. What if you give them maybe a red flag where they could say, ‘I have a family member who’s suicidal and in crisis, let’s remove that danger, get them through this?’ We just want to give people tools.
I’m wondering if I can get a sense from you where your colleagues in Arizona are on Interstate 11. Do you feel like there’s some momentum down there to do their part?
I hope so. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), I knew her from the House. We were on the campaign trail together because we were the two Democratic freshman women. In Arizona, they know it’s important for commerce, tourism and everything else. They need that as much as we do. So, I think there’s an appetite for that.
Where are we on Yucca Mountain? Do you anticipate that there will be another push? How do you keep fighting this thing back?
I’ve been fighting Yucca last session and this session. Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.) and I worked together to fight the funding for it in the House. Luckily for me, I have a lot of friends coming from the House. I called all of them and talked to them about why Yucca isn’t a good idea.
The number one reason, especially when I start talking to Republicans, is it’s a state’s rights issue. Why do 49 other states get to consent, and one state doesn’t? We want consent-based nuclear waste storage, number one.
Number two, one of the other things I’ve been talking about is the transportation routes. The waste can only be moved by train or truck, and at the 75,000 metric tons of waste, it’s estimated at three loads by train or truck per week, going through 44 states. That’s 94% of the nuclear waste made east of the Mississippi. It would take over 50 years to get to Yucca Mountain.
Is a 50-year solution the right way to think about solving this problem? It’s going to go through 40-some states. But the real issue is there’s four cities that, for three times a week, wherever the waste comes from, are points of convergence. There’s Chicago, Omaha, Salt Lake and Las Vegas, because that’s just how the routes go.
This isn’t really a viable solution. So, one of the things I’ve been trying to do is tell people that we’ve had this moratorium on researching other viable ways of storing nuclear energy. And we have companies now where they do deep boring or isolation. If we allow research or technology and look around the world at what they’re doing, I think we can find a better solution. I just try to have a reasonable conversation. And we’re going to keep fighting it. But why would we want to solve it with the technology of 1980s?
As you know, there’s a draft lands bill proposed by Clark County that would expand some of the county’s boundaries of developable land. What kind of conversations have you been having around the draft of that bill, and when do you think it could be introduced?
Since Catherine and I were elected, we’ve realized that there’s a lot of issues very relevant to just the state of Nevada. So, we started having the entire federal delegation, all six of us, sit in a room talking, whether it’s about Yucca Mountain or other Nevada-specific issues we agree on. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) of course comes too. We’re talking about everything. Maybe we might put a Nevada lands bill together, because up North they have checkerboard issues too. If we put together a Nevada lands bill in general and all six of us sign on to that, that has a good chance to get through the House and the Senate because there would be no points of dissension. That’s what we’ve been talking about.
As for a sense of when it might come forward, we’ll probably have more of a sense when we go back in September. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sets the agenda.
I saw that you’re working on a bill that would require public schools to disclose how many students are participating in computer science courses, as well as their gender, race and other demographic information. Why is that an issue that’s important to you?
What you have to realize is here in America, we have a huge shortage of individuals going into engineering, science, technology, math, computers, you name it. In order to try to figure out how we entice young folks or people who need retraining, we want a really diverse workforce and we want the next generation to be able to accept the challenges. If you have a good K-12 foundation, then whatever you decide to do, you have a platform on which to launch. But if we see those demographics, we want to be sure we’re putting resources across them. Young people just don’t realize all the kinds of jobs that are out there. So by having the statistics, we know where we can put resources and training and be sure that we’re giving kids onramps to careers they might have never thought they could do or didn’t even knew existed. That’s why it’s important.
You’ve been in the Senate for eight months. Are you optimistic about our democracy?
I feel the American people are resilient. I’m naturally an optimist, so maybe that’s my perspective too, but I look around at the team I have working with me in Washington. They’re young, they’re smart, they’re passionate and they care about their future.
I go up and down Nevada and I meet with groups talking about issues, from small businesses to disease research to community involvement. Whatever it is, I ask people, ‘What else are you worried about?’
I feel people want people to be civil again and fight about the issues. They want the bullying to stop and the name-calling to stop. Regardless of where they come from, people have expressed anxiety over how people treat each other, and about their healthcare, about their education, just overall, if we going to be okay and if we can get along. Maybe they don’t show it on Facebook or Twitter, but that’s what they tell me.
A lot of people, as they watch what’s happening at the border, are just horrified at what’s going on. Beyond voting, do you have any advice for people about how they can help?
What’s happening is shameful. I feel ashamed.
Besides voting, people can try to be active in their community. They can talk to their elected officials. And I will tell you, when I was down at the border, we visited with Sister Norma at Catholic Charities. She runs the shelter there. She has volunteers that came as far as Rhode Island and Connecticut, making sandwiches, delivering supplies and helping people. There were young people, old people and volunteers from everywhere.
There are people like Sister Norma doing things. That’s just one example. You can find out who’s doing those kinds of humanitarian aid in those communities. That is one way you can donate your time and donate your money.
Leading up to the 2020 election, there’s a chance we could have another situation where whoever wins the election could lose the popular vote. Where do you stand in the debate on the future of the Electoral College?
That’s a really difficult one, because the reason the Electoral College was set up was to make sure states had equal say and that people wouldn’t just go to population centers where people could win the vote. You have to think about the history of our country and the precedent and what stands on that. I guess that’s the systems analyst in me. You really have to look at the long-term consequences. There are greater minds than I thinking about that, but I think you do have to look at the fact that we might see a short-term gain from that, but what do we lose? There’s a reason why it was set that way. Maybe it needs a different modification. Maybe there’d be analysts who could talk about it. But I don’t have the answer to that myself.