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Politics and Policy

Sen. Cortez Masto reflects on Jan. 6, how the government has handled the pandemic and climate change

An image of U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
Sen. Cortez Masto's office
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto testifying before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, against nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain, May 1, 2019

Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto has been serving Nevada in the U.S. Senate since 2017, filling the seat left by the now-retired Harry Reid. She has worked to pass legislation to help address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and she has been pushing for a path to citizenship for children who were brought to the U.S. illegally.

In this conversation with KUNR’s Noah Glick, Cortez Masto talks about how to help communities recover from the pandemic, along with election security and climate change.

Note: In honor of Nevada Day, KUNR's Noah Glick recorded interviews with four Nevada lawmakers, including Governor Steve Sisolak, Congressman Mark Amodei, and U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen. Each interview is lightly edited for clarity and the length of the interview was determined by the availability of each lawmaker.

Noah Glick: I just want to start off with the pandemic. There's a lot that's been going on over the last year and a half or so. Let's start with some of the federal response of the pandemic. You were a supporter of the CARES Act and other federal spending programs. I'm just curious to know, what in your view is the right way to handle this pandemic from a federal response standpoint moving forward? What else needs to be done? And do you think that the government did enough in its response to the pandemic?

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto: Well, as you know, Noah, Nevada was especially hard hit because of our tourism [and] hospitality industry, ad when it, really, came time to negotiate all of the COVID relief packages, including in the final one, the American Rescue Plan, every single one of those are important to deliver for our state. A couple of things were happening. We had to really take on this pandemic. We had to beat it. We had to make sure we had the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program], the vaccines, doing everything we could, the testing, to make sure people can be safe and continue to beat the pandemic, so that we could start the process of opening up our economy.

We asked people to shelter in place, so we had to keep them afloat, so, yes, the federal response to this, in not only addressing the healthcare piece of it, but for purposes of getting [...] money into people's pockets, as well as shoring up our businesses, our small businesses, and everyone else who was asked to shelter, was important.

So, every COVID relief package we did was needed and wanted in our state in a bipartisan way. I was hearing from so many people from all of our counties, individuals to businesses, that we needed that support, and I worked hard to make sure we were looking out for the best interests of people in our state.

A perfect example was in the American Rescue Plan, fighting for relief for our families and children through the Child Tax Credit. There were so many that were furloughed. We had 30% unemployment at one point in time in our state. And so, so many people either lost access to healthcare or benefits, so it was important that many that were furloughed had access to healthcare through COBRA, so that's why I fought for a 100% subsidies for COBRA to help individuals in our state.

And it just goes on and on and on. There was so much need; the direct payments to individuals helped keep them afloat. The pandemic unemployment helped individuals who were hard hit in our state. The money that really came into small businesses, from the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] to the EIDL [Economic Injury Disaster Loan] loans, to everything that we could do, which I fought for our restaurants and our live events. It's really to keep them afloat [and] was just as important as well, so all of that money was necessary for our economy to start coming around - and it has.

Now, our challenge in Nevada is we don't have the business traveler back or the international traveler yet, so our economy's still taking a little bit of a hit in that sense. We don't see the travelers that we have seen in the past, but if we keep people vaccinated, if we really kind of beat the pandemic and the variants, we're going to be able to continue to open our economy and make sure people feel safe traveling again.

Glick: I want to ask about a specific community that's been impacted disproportionately, especially here in Nevada. I want to talk about the Latino community here. That's a group that's been seeing higher rates of COVID transmission, but, also being impacted by a lack of Spanish language emergency messaging throughout the pandemic. What can be done to help Spanish speakers in Nevada or elsewhere in the country, who may need more information in Spanish? Or, what else can be done to help the Latino community recover from the pandemic?

Sen. Cortez Masto: Well, it's already being done, but let me just say this. It is important that we help all of our communities. One of them, we saw disproportionate impact [the] pandemic in our Latino communities, and so it was important for us to get together to, from a state, local and private opportunities, in [the] private sector, to come together, to reach out to our Latino communities. So, when we started doing the mobile vaccination sites at the federal level, we started funding mobile vaccination sites, and our nonprofits, our local governments, our state government, everybody got together to bring these mobile vaccination sites into our communities, and I was there. You can identify the ZIP codes, where there were low vaccination rates, and some of those were in our Latino communities. I would go in with these mobile vaccination sites; they were bilingual; they spoke so Spanish at these sites. They knocked on doors to let people know that the vaccines were there and people came out.

There was one man who came to understand what was going on at an apartment complex that we were at. And then he got vaccinated, he went home and got his family, but it was important that we actually meet people where they live, and that was true for Latino communities. If you bring the vaccinations there, if you bring people that are trusted and doctors that they can talk to, you can overcome the language barrier. They will get vaccinated.

Noah, one of the things we discovered is not a lot of people knew that the vaccines were even free, so by bringing these mobile vaccination sites into our communities, and letting them know that they were free, they were willing to get vaccinated. So, there is a lot of work being done now, and there has been to reach out to our Latino communities to overcome those language barriers and make sure they have access to these vaccines.

Glick: Well, let's talk vaccines. First of all, I just want to ask, are you vaccinated against COVID 19?

Sen. Cortez Masto: Yes, I am.

Glick: I know you are an advocate of others getting vaccinated if they haven't yet, but I'm curious to know, would you support any sort of broad-based vaccine mandates, similar to the one that President Joe Biden has recently brought up?

Sen. Cortez Masto: Well, I can tell you, vaccines are key to getting Americans back to normal life and restoring our economy. I know they are safe, effective, and free. And I have been home saying to people that, yes, if we want to turn our economy around, listen, Noah, it's just one thing I've said: The business traveler doesn't feel safe traveling yet because of the COVID and the pandemic, and that business traveler is what we rely on in our state as one of the main revenue generators. And, so, we have to make sure that we get these vaccines out there, get people vaccinated, so they feel comfortable traveling again. It is important for our economy in the state of Nevada.

Glick: Let's talk economy then. One of the themes that I'm hearing here is this lack of business travel, lack of international travel, so what can we do or maybe what can be done from a federal standpoint to get those business travelers back, get those international travelers back? Or, what else can the federal government do to help an economic recovery at this point?

Sen. Cortez Masto: So, we are actually doing that now, so a couple of things: the money that we put out through COVID relief, and most recently the American Rescue Plan, is still in our communities. It is getting out there to make sure that we are testing people and getting them vaccinated. We are starting to see more of that business travel or more of those trade shows and conventions. They're starting to get on the calendar now, and more people are feeling comfortable about traveling, but we have to make sure that we get more of the country vaccinated.

At the same time, the international traveler's just as important. And I was literally in a meeting at the White House, and talking about how we are going to work together to really start bringing the international traveler back, making sure people are safe, [and] have vaccination cards. If they're going to come into this country, they have to have vaccination cards, and, how we go about opening the door safely for that international traveler who is vaccinated and can travel back into the United States again, so that process, we're working through that right now.

Glick: Election security has been a topic in the news in the last several months, so I'm just curious to know what your thoughts are on election security. Do you think that there's a legitimate concern of election security in America or in Nevada?

Sen. Cortez Masto: Well, I can tell you as a former Attorney General in the state of Nevada, and I was attorney general for eight years, there was no wholesale election fraud in the elections in our state, so what I do know is this: we should, in this country, be able to provide people with an opportunity to vote in a manner that feels safe and secure for them. And at the same time, have the ability to ensure we are protecting our elections across the country.

Now, I go around talking to people about Nevada. Nevada's a perfect example of how it can work. We have automatic voting registration, we have same-day registration. We have early voting and now we have mail-in voting because it was so successful last election. This is an opportunity to make sure that we are making sure everybody really can vote in our state, in a manner that works for them. And if we can do it in Nevada, it's a perfect example of how we can do it across the country in a safe and secure way as well.

Glick: Well, sticking with this theme of elections, I just have to ask: Who is the current president of the United States?

Sen. Cortez Masto: You're asking me who the current president of the United States is? I can understand why, but yes, I can tell you the last election, as somebody who was involved with the counting [of] the votes for the president of the United States as [a] United States senator, it is Joe Biden. And he won fairly, and there was no fraud at all in the election.

Glick: I do want to shift a little bit and talk about January 6, [2021], given that this is probably the day that most folks will remember from this year. Briefly, what was it like that day for you?

Sen. Cortez Masto: Well, I can tell you, January 6 was a horrible day for me and for our country. We were literally under attack in the Capitol. It was, I just referred to it, this was a time when, as a United States senator and all of Congress, we were doing the votes, which we are required to do for counting the electoral [votes] across the country. And, it was part of what our democracy and what we should be proud of, is the peaceful transfer from one president to the next. And there is no doubt in my mind that the former president violated his responsibility as president and commander-in-chief, to that peaceful transfer of power. And he sowed doubt in the 2020 election and encouraged his supporters to storm the Capitol.

And that's what you saw happening that day on TV. I experienced it firsthand, and I can tell you, as I walked through the Capitol after our incredible Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police department officers were able to remove all of the insurrectionists, not only was the Capitol broken and torn apart, but there were Trump flags throughout the Capitol. So, again, this goes back to what I said previously. If we are going to really kind of make a point of defending our democracy, we all have a responsibility to stand up for it, and that means we have a responsibility to stand up and address and show that there was no lie there. The election in 2020 was not stolen.

Glick: And I don't want to stay with this topic too long, but I'm just curious, because you did vote to impeach former President Trump for his role in that day. I'm just curious, with the impeachment not going through or him not convicted of any crimes, what would responsibility for that day look like?

Sen. Cortez Masto: Well, I think a couple of things: One, that there should have been an independent commission studying what happened on January 6. And I was disappointed that my colleagues, even Republican colleagues, would not necessarily even support some independent commission coming in to take a look at what happened on January 6.

That's what we needed, and really, we owed it to the Capitol Police officers, the Metropolitan Police Department from Washington D.C. and everyone else who came to defend the Capitol. We owed it to them to do an independent, bipartisan commission or independent-supported commission to show the country that we all stand not only with those officers, but stand for the protection of not only this Capitol, which is the people's Capitol, but our democracy. So, I was disappointed that we could not even come together to have that independent commission.

Glick: I want to talk briefly about climate change. As you're well aware, wildfire season is getting bigger, more destructive. The wildfires this past year, especially here in Northern Nevada, I'm sure you saw the Caldor Fire almost got into the bowl at Lake Tahoe. I guess I'm just curious to know what needs to be done on a federal level to help fight climate change and to help stop the impact that we're seeing, whether it's historic drought or increased wildfires?

Sen. Cortez Masto: Actually we are doing work around the climate crisis and addressing the climate change that is happening, that is bringing to our state hotter and longer wildfires, along with the drought that we are dealing with now in the state of Nevada. Nevada is an innovation state. We really lead in solar, wind and geothermal. And, the opportunities that has brought jobs, good paying jobs that address the climate crisis. The work that I have done [and] will continue and continues to lean into that type of economy, which is a clean energy economy. That's going to bring us electric vehicles, electric buses. We have electric charging stations in the state of Nevada. If you go, you know this, Noah, if you go to Lovelock or you're outside Caliente, Lincoln County, there's electric charging stations there. And it is important that we continue to invest in the research around the clean energy economy, but also, provide incentives and support.

We have incredible businesses now in Nevada that are doing battery storage for clean energy and battery recycling, so, for me, in the bipartisan infrastructure package, that was important to get legislation that continues to invest in that clean energy economy. And we're going to do so similarly in the next legislation. I also was able in the bipartisan infrastructure package to really put funding around how we address the drought and the wildfires in our state. Again, to make sure that we are understanding that climate change is happening and we need the resources to address it and reduce our carbon footprint at the same time.

Glick: What would you say is your biggest or proudest accomplishment, and what's something that maybe you wish you would've been able to get done or is disappointing as you look back?

Sen. Cortez Masto: Well, I can tell you, my work to address, the crisis of missing, murdered and trafficked Indigenous women was important. [I'm] very proud to be able to have been able to work on that in a bipartisan way and team up with Senator Lisa Murkowski. We passed both of those bills really under the previous administration. I'm very proud of that.

And at the end of the day, moving forward, my priority is going to be sure that we're making sure that Nevada's working families have what they need to succeed. That means child tax credits, that we're talking about more investments in the clean energy technologies that bring jobs to our region and helps combat the climate crisis that we're seeing.

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