Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., received a warm welcome from a friendly crowd at a town hall event held Saturday at Reno High School. It was a stark contrast to the often-contentious town hall held just a few days prior by her senate counterpart, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., the state’s only two congressional Republicans.
Cortez Masto was asked about a variety of topics, which ranged from Planned Parenthood funding to the possibility of U.S. military action in North Korea. However, throughout much of the town hall, it was President Donald J. Trump who dominated the conversation.
A spot of contention arose when Judy Engman, a supporter of Trump, asked Cortez Masto about her plans for immigration reform.
Engman said she came to the town hall to press the senator on her immigration policy in particular, a policy which she says lacked the kind of specifics she wanted to know. Her question and subsequent interjections, however, were met with loud jeers from the crowd.
“To say that we need a border wall, but at the same time say that we’re having a decrease in border crossings makes no sense to me,” Cortez Masto said before being interrupted by Engman.
“The only reason we have decreased immigration is because Donald Trump has stood up for the American Citizens, and trying to keep drugs and criminals out,” Engman said. “You deport criminal aliens and they come back and they come back and they come back.”
The comment, which was met with a round of boos from the crowd, did end up leading to one of the longer one-on-one discussion Cortez Masto had with any constituents that day. Even so, Engman, along with her husband Sterly Engman, later said her question was not answered.
“I saw [here] exactly what I saw at the Republican meeting — spin,” Sterly said. “Unfortunately, that’s what politicians do. Why did Donald Trump get elected, ‘cause he says stupid things sometimes? He’s not spinning, he’s flat saying it and he’s going to work.”
There was also a question on why Cortez Masto voted to approve energy secretary Rick Perry. Perry, the former Texas governor turned Trump nominee, drew criticism during the nomination process due to his inexperience in the energy sector. And late last month, Perry drew more ire in Nevada when he visited the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site just days after millions of renewed funding for the project appeared in Trump’s “skinny” budget.
Cortez Masto said the senate’s role is in “advise and consent,” not actually choosing the nominees. She added that not every nominee would have been her top choice for the job before adding more context on her Perry vote.
“I did not agree with everything that Secretary Perry stands for, I can tell you that,” Cortez Masto said. “But there are things that have concerned me — and had the opportunity to talk to him specifically about — and one of my biggest concerns was Yucca Mountain and making sure we are doing everything we can to find allies who will continue to work with us to prevent that nuclear waste from coming into Nevada.”
Cortez Masto said that because Perry promised both to defeat Yucca Mountain and buck Trump if need be, she would support him. She added that because she sits on the senate committee on energy and natural resources, she can hold Perry to account and “pull him in” on commitments he’s made to Nevada.
She also fielded questions that were less policy related, such as a question late in the town hall asking how the Democratic Party could improve things like strategy or branding to win in 2018 and beyond.
To that, she said that Democrats are better at being policy wonks than coming up with slogans, adding that they need to find more slogans like “she persisted,” a motto that became a Democratic rallying cry when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., used an obscure senate rule to stop Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., from speaking on the senate floor earlier this year.
This week, both Cortez Masto and Heller return to Washington, where they’ll face a looming budget battle and possible government shutdown over renewed calls from the White House to fund a wall along the southern border of the U.S.
Jacob Solis can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.