In this time of political polarization, Dean Heller likes to think there is still some room for both sides to work together.
Now running for re-election to the U.S. Senate, Heller maintains that while he is a Republican, he prefers to think of himself instead as a “conservative Nevadan.” The Carson City, Nev. native says he’ll keep an open mind, and takes good ideas where he finds them.
“I don’t care whose idea it is. I don’t care if it comes from a Democrat, Republican or comes from the White House, if it is a good idea and it helps America and helps Nevada, I am going to support it,” says Heller.
The senator is proud of his “bipartisan” credentials: Heller was ranked fifth by Lugar’s McCourt School Bipartisan Index in 2017. The index is put out by the McCourt School of Public Policy, which is part of Georgetown University.
Many question if there is any “meeting in the middle” anymore.
The current political atmosphere is polarized. Vitriol is everywhere, and some of it is downright nasty, including late-night television host Samantha Bee calling First Daughter Ivanka trump the “C” word on her TBS show.
Heller would like to see more civility. “There’s a lot of political white noise and I think both sides need to calm down,” he says.
Who’s In Charge Here?
Dean Heller hasn’t had it especially easy these past few years. The senator from Nevada, like his fellow members of Congress, has witnessed a period of enormous political change in the country.
For Republicans like Heller, especially, the political landscape has been challenging. Politics have never been the same since the arrival of Donald Trump on the campaign scene three years ago.
Trump’s November 2016 election stunned the world, and also gave the Republicans control of the presidency and both houses of Congress. Suddenly, Republicans had the voting power to make good on long-promised measures, such as repealing Obamacare and strengthening the country’s borders.
Heller was one of the senators receiving a lot of pressure, from both sides, prior to his votes on the repeal of parts of Obamacare. Ultimately, Heller voted against a Republican measure that would have curtailed the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. He defends his vote now, maintaining that the proposed legislation would have caused thousands of Nevadans to lose their health insurance.
“I did what I said I was going to do,” Heller says, “protect individuals in Nevada who depend on Medicaid.”
Nevertheless, Heller says he is still convinced Obamacare, overall, is bad for the country. The senator would later vote in favor of a “skinny repeal” of some of the ACA’s most contentions parts. Those parts included the much-maligned “individual mandate,” which required every person to get health insurance or receive penalties. While Heller voted in favor of the “skinny repeal,” the Republican measure was doomed, anyway, when Arizona Republican Senator John McCain did his famous “thumbs down” jester. (The McCain vote has been widely criticized as McCain’s payback to Trump for their long feud, rather than a vote on the merits of the ‘skinny repeal” itself).
Another long-time Republican wish-list item is securing the southern border with Mexico. The most conservative of Republican lawmakers tend to side with the president, while a number of more-moderate — and liberal-leaning — Republicans have sought to work with a few moderate Democrats on what is often called “comprehensive immigration reform.” Almost all Democrats have fought Trump’s proposed border wall. The stalemate just doesn’t make any sense to Heller, who had tried years ago to work on a solution.
“Five or six years ago, we had a comprehensive immigration reform package that was on the Senate floor and passed. It went over to the House and died. I was one of 12 (or) 13 Republicans that voted for that immigration package,” he recalls during an interview with a Vegas Legal Magazine reporter. “My argument all along is, had that package passed, we would not be having the very discussion that you and I are having right now. Because it would have fixed a lot of these problems, including building the wall.”
Heller blames much of the impasse on Democratic obstructionism.
“There was $46 billion in that legislation to build the wall. If that piece of legislation had passed, here five years later we would have had a much different discussion.” He maintains. “There was $46 billion in there. The bill that we have now for DACA (or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is $25 billion. Stop and think about that for a minute. The Senate as a whole, every Democrat I believe voted for it, would have allowed $46 billion for border security. Today, they won’t allow $25 billion for border security. Clearly, (it’s) politics.”
“Obstructionism” is definitely something that gets under Heller’s skin. The Nevada senator is frustrated with the snail’s pace at which President Trump’s nominees are going through the congressional confirmation process. Heller also contrasts that to how Republicans treated then-President Barack Obama’s nominees when Obama became president in 2009.
“I have served under three presidents: President (George W.) Bush, President Obama and President Trump, and I haven’t seen anything like what I have seen under President Trump. Under Obama, we gave him the cabinet that he wanted,” Heller recounts. “There weren’t too many Republicans who were high on (approving then-Sen.) John Kerry (as secretary of state). There weren’t that many Republicans who were that high on (approving secretary of state nominee) Hillary Clinton. But, this was the Obama Administration, and we recognized and respected that fact that he won the presidential race, and he should be able to have the cabinet that he wants.”
Heller says no such deference has been shown to Donald Trump after he took the oath of office in January 2017.
“That is not the way the Democrats think today. The way that it works in the United States Senate, (is) you have 30 hours of debate on every judge, every nominee, every cabinet member,” He points out. “Thirty hours of debate means that you can only get at one or two of them during a span of one week when the Senate floor is open. Either the Democrats are going to give a little bit, or (the Senate) is going to have to change the rules to lessen the time of debate.”
“That math works out to it taking 11 years to confirm all Trump’s appointments, at this pace,” Heller adds. “That’s longer than any president can be in office, even if re-elected. The stalling tactics by Democrats may force a change in senate rules to allow a debate time of no more than five hours for low-level nominees, such as undersecretaries of cabinets,” Heller predicts.
“The Most-Important Mid-Term Of Our Lifetime?”
“Every election is the most important in our lifetime. I have been hearing that for 25 years and this one isn’t any different than that,” Heller gets a chuckle out of some commentators calling this 2018 election ‘The Most-Important Mid-Term of Our Lifetime.’ It is, however, a vitally important election, he adds.
“But having said that, what you are hearing is true. The Democrats only had three issues that they wanted to work (on) if they take the majority and that is ‘impeach,’ ‘impeach,’ ‘impeach.’ So, no doubt … they want to impeach this president if they were to take the majority of the either the House or the Senate,” Heller warns. “If (Democrats) take one and not the other, all they are going to do is hold hearings and they will bring this place to a complete standstill.”
While Heller and then-candidate Donald Trump had their differences (Heller wouldn’t support Trump’s candidacy), their relationship seems much different today. Heller credits that with Trump working with him to find solutions to issues like legal status for DACA recipients, and also the good Trump has done for the country since becoming president.
“Their goal is to stop this guy,” Heller says of the forces aligned against President Trump. “He has been plowing forward. He has signed two pieces of legislation in early June, the veterans’ bill and childhood cancer bill called, ‘The Mission Act.’ He’s plowing forward, regardless of what people are hearing about from the press.”
Heller decries the onslaught of negative media coverage against Trump, which he says ignores the successes of Republicans. Regardless, Heller says he’s as determined as Trump.
“[The press] would rather talk about [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller or [porn star] Stormy Daniels, or whatever the story of the day is, instead of the success of his administration, including the economy,” he concludes. “So, we are plowing forward.”
Vegas Legal Magazine: How did your childhood, growing up in Northern Nevada, shape your future career path and outlook?
Dean Heller: “I grew up in Carson City learning the importance of hard work, discipline, and kindness – values that many Nevadans share. My parents worked hard to support me and my brothers and sisters. I attended Carson High School and delivered the newspapers every morning. My mom was a school cook and my father was an auto mechanic, and I actually worked in my dad’s garage. So, I know the value of a dollar, and the sweat that goes into a paycheck. I’d like to point out that I’m probably the only U.S. Senator who can tune up your car or fix your transmission.”
VLM: The stock market and the overall economy has grown quite a bit under the presidency of Donald Trump. With the passage of Trump’s tax cuts, what impact do you expect to see on Nevada’s economy?
DH: “We are already seeing the positive impacts of tax reform in Nevada, from Ely to Las Vegas. Look no further than the Strip for proof – construction for the once-stalled Fontainebleau resort project, now called The Drew, has resumed. The project is expected to create 10,000 jobs in Southern Nevada alone. But this is just one example. Since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was signed into law only five months ago about 11,000 Nevadans got a raise, roughly 13,000 Nevadans received special bonuses of up to $2,000, up to 25,000 Nevadans may benefit from college tuition assistance, increased pension funding, expanded maternity and paternity leave, and more paid holidays. Whether it is a hotel in Ely that used its savings from tax reform to give its workers higher starting wages, or South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa which doubled its 2,300 full-time workers’ bonuses, our tax cut plan is giving Nevadans a much-deserved break.
As we move forward with the next six months, I’m encouraged by this growth and believe Nevada is in a great position. I think we are only seeing the beginning of tax reform’s positive impact in Nevada and that as more businesses see their savings, there will be more “Hiring” signs in windows and workers will see more take-home pay, increased wages, and benefits. I’m optimistic this historic law will continue to lift middle-class families and our local communities, and I will continue to do everything I can to build on this momentum.”
VLM: Nevada has a high percentage of small businesses making up the state’s economy. What are your plans to help small business owners grow and succeed?
DH: “When Nevada’s small businesses succeed, our state and workers succeed and that’s why I’m a strong supporter of rolling back burdensome regulations that hurt our local job creators and fought to pass tax reform, which lowers rates for these companies. I know how important Nevada’s 428,000 small businesses are to helping our local communities and I’m proud that in 2017 alone Congress repealed 15 heavy handed regulations imposed by President Obama. Recently, President Trump signed into law my Small Business Credit Availability Act, bipartisan legislation to help small businesses owners access more capital to grow their businesses. Also, I’ve repeatedly fought for Congress to repeal the Cadillac tax, and earlier this year I voted for legislation that has delayed the disastrous tax for two years. As Nevada’s U.S. Senator, I will continue to fight for our state’s job creators by championing policies that allow them to focus on hiring, investing, and expanding rather than filling out paperwork.”
VLM: You originally declined to endorse Republican nominee Donald Trump for president in 2016. But after Trump was elected, you worked with him to pass tax reform. Later, after the 1 October Las Vegas shooting, you flew to Las Vegas with President Trump. Can you talk about how your views of Donald Trump have changed, and what your relationship with the president is like today?
DH: “I’ve worked with three presidents throughout my time in Congress – Presidents Bush, Obama, and now President Trump. So, I’ve been able to get a good birds-eye view of how these White Houses have interacted with the Hill. And I can tell you that the Trump Administration is the most engaged in listening to members, including myself, and that goes a long way when crafting policy like tax reform. The President spends a lot of time with legislators compared to the previous Administrations who didn’t give that kind of access.
In the last year and a half, I’ve worked with this White House on a number of important policies to help Nevadans. This is a president with a strong business background who is bringing people to the table for input and new ideas – and it is working. Just take a look at some of the accomplishments Congress and the White House have been able to deliver for the American people: tax reform to families and small business owners, accountability at the VA for our veterans, a growing economy with record-low unemployment, the highest pay raise in eight years for our troops, and more.”
VLM: Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to approve a measure which could eventually lead to using Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste dump site. Later, you and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., urged the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water to keep the Yucca Mountain funding out of the 2019 spending bill. You were successful in that effort. What is next in the fight to stop nuclear waste from being stored at Yucca Mountain?
DH: “As long as I’m in the U.S. Senate, Yucca Mountain is dead – it is as simple as that. I will not allow the Administration to shove funding for this project down Nevada’s throat. Last year, I blocked taxpayer dollars to resuscitate this mothballed project, and I will continue to do again. While the U.S. House of Representatives has approved millions of dollars to revive Yucca Mountain, I’m stopping their misguided and dangerous push at every turn. Not only have I excluded federal funds for Yucca Mountain in the recently-signed omnibus package, in one week alone I successfully blocked funds not once, but twice while my opponent was asleep on the job. Yucca Mountain poses a serious threat to our economy, and Nevadans’ health. Under my watch Yucca Mountain is dead and it will stay that way.”
VLM: One of your most-talked about votes in the Senate was your “yes’ vote last summer on the so-called “skinny repeal” of parts of the Affordable Care Act, such as the individual mandate. That measure ultimately failed. But can you explain why you voted “yes” on the “skinny repeal” of Obamacare, while you would not support the earlier effort to repeal parts that involved the Medicaid expansion?
DH: “I did what I said I was going to do – protect individuals in Nevada who depend on Medicaid – and “skinny repeal” did not touch Nevada’s Medicaid expansion dollars. Obamacare has been an abject failure in Nevada. Last summer, Nevadans in 14 of the 17 counties were facing no health care options until an insurer stepped in last minute. Now those Nevadans have one health care option. That’s not [a] choice. Additionally, premiums and deductibles have skyrocketed, and tens of thousands of Nevadans were forced to pay a fine for a product they likely couldn’t afford.”
VLM: High-profile, tragic school shootings have been in the news again in recent months. You have come out in support of the Fix NICS Act to strengthen background checks. Do you support having more armed security at schools, arming teachers, or instituting other gun-control measures, like a ban on assault rifles?
DH: “I helped introduce the Fix NICS Act in the fall, and I worked with my colleagues and the Administration to push it through Congress and into law as part of the omnibus package signed by the President in March. Also incorporated in that law is the Stop School Violence Act, a bipartisan bill that I helped introduce with my colleagues that gives communities and schools the federal resources they need to train students, teachers, and school personnel to identify and thwart threats of violence.”
As a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, I do not believe in restricting the constitutional right of law-abiding Americans. State legislatures should decide what measures, if at all, that they want to take. Florida did so after the [Feb. 14th high school shooting] tragedy in Parkland. But what is best for Florida may not be best for Nevada. So, when it comes to specific proposals that involve school districts, I believe those are decisions that are best made at the state and local levels.”
VLM: What do you think should be done about the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States (with that number estimated to be even higher by some sources)? Also, do you support President Trump building a border wall with Mexico? And, should the funding for a border wall — and an end to “chain migration” – be part of any deal for permanent legal status for DACA recipients?
DH: “Children who came to our country through no fault of their own should have a solution to stay in the U.S. legally. That is why I am a co-sponsor of the bipartisan BRIDGE Act. I have voted twice to provide a permanent solution for DREAMers, while also securing our borders. Unfortunately, however, Democrats’ political posturing prevented us from having an open debate and sending the President a bill that he will sign. Congress needs to reform our broken immigration system, and any fix must include border security. Once I was able to secure border funding, I was one of 14 Republicans to support bipartisan immigration reform four years ago. The bipartisan legislation took an important step forward in providing a permanent solution for DREAMers, but unfortunately did not make it out of Congress.
We also must take action to keep our neighborhoods safe as dangerous brutal gangs like MS-13 grow and carry out acts of violence in Nevada and across the country. Criminal undocumented immigrants associated with brutal gangs like MS-13, whose members have been charged with murder in Nevada, must be removed from the United States in order to enhance public safety. I introduced a bill that would do just that – called the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act. My bill safeguards our communities, and children from violent gangs by expediting the removal of criminal gang members and preventing them from entering the country in the first place.”
VLM: When television personality Samantha Bee recently made a vile insult aimed a First Daughter Ivanka Trump, it was just one of the latest examples of the nasty discourse along political lines. Do you see a way to bridge the divide between the left and the right, or at least help people to engage in civil political discussions?
DH: “It is wrong to say hateful, vile comments no matter who you are, famous or not famous, and I hope this disgraceful pattern stops. We even have our own bloggers in the state that like to practice name-calling and to rile up both sides. There’s a lot of political white noise and I think both sides need to calm down.”
VLM: What would you say to those Nevada voters who may be undecided on whether they will vote for you, or your Democratic opponent, in November? How do you plan to make their lives better, if re-elected?
DH: “I get things done for Nevada, and my opponent simply has not. This state is my home, my family’s home, and I want to make it a place where all Nevadans can get ahead. And that’s what I’ve done in my first term. Veterans are getting the care they’ve earned, Nevadans’ paychecks are bigger, and we finally have this economy booming again. Nevadans want a Senator who will take action and produce results and as the 5th most bipartisan Senator in the U.S. Senate, I’ve proven that I will work with anyone from any party to move our state forward. In Congress, I’ve helped push into law bills that will make our schools safer and give our law enforcement officials the tools they need to reduce the rape kit backlog and deliver justice for victims. As Nevada’s U.S. Senator, I will continue to tackle and deliver solutions to our state’s most challenging issues. I’m working to fight Nevada’s drug crisis, overhaul our aging infrastructure, fully reform the VA, and bring prosperity to Nevadans in all 17 counties. I will continue to push for policies that boost our economy and create jobs and foster an environment that allows our small businesses to thrive.”
Valerie Miller is a journalist based in the Las Vegas Valley. She can be reached at (702) 683-3986 or firstname.lastname@example.org.