This week has been quite momentous, to say the least. Following the previous weekend’s uproar over President Donald Trump’s “Don’t Call It a #MuslimBan,”the mood in D.C. quickly soured as Congressional Republicans aimed to confirm more of Trump’s Cabinet picks. And as soon as news broke of Trump nominating Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court seat that Senate Republicans left vacant all last year by refusing to confirm Merrick Garland, then President Barack Obama’s nominee, Senate Democrats were seething.
What went down during the “Second Week of Trump”, and why did it conclude with a “Vigil for American Values” at Senator Heller’s office?
On the night of January 27, the world was shocked when the Trump Administration dropped an executive order banning refugees from seven Muslim majority nations from entering the United States. The White House has argued it’s just a “temporary measure meant to screen out terrorists”, but so far we’ve mostly seen families torn apart (including here in Nevada).
Two days after the initial chaotic rollout of the “Don’t Call It a #MuslimBan”, Rep. Dina Titus (D-Paradise) seemed to be processing the situation along with the audience at a For Our Future community meeting at UNLV’s Tam Alumni Center. She expressed her outrage over the Trump Administration’s actions, which culminated in the firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she refused to defend the order in court, while also stressing her office will remain open to fight for all District 1 constituents.
President Donald Trump sprang another surprise on the nation when he used a reality TV style production to roll out his nomination of Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Court. But unlike reality TV shows, like his own, which doesn’t always “feel real” and can be cancelled whenever the network chooses, Gorsuch will have a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court if the Senate confirms him. And unlike “Celebrity Apprentice,” a show that seeks to appeal to a wide range of Americans by choosing D-List celebrities from various walks of life to compete, Gorsuch’s record points to a very narrow view of justice that seems to value corporate interests and religious right ideology over the larger interest of “liberty and justice for all.”
Against this contentious national political backdrop, there was a moment of calm outside U.S. Senator Dean Heller’s (R) Las Vegas area office Thursday night.
As Trump’s second week in office came to a close, over 100 Nevadans gathered outside Senator Heller’s Southern Nevada office. At the Vigil for American Values organized by multiple progressive advocacy groups, the peaceful crowd asked Senator Heller to do more to push back against the already startling excesses of the Trump White House.
“We’re here to let Senator Dean Heller know we’re watching him and praying for him.” That’s how Battle Born Progress Executive Director Annette Magnus opened the vigil. “We’re unified. We’re together. We love each other.”
A few minutes later, local Palestinian-American civil rights activist Fahima Khalaf read aloud a letter she sent to Senator Heller. She asked him to serve all Nevadans, including immigrants who are affected by Trump’s actions.
Rosita Castillo from Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates asked him to relate to the life or death struggles of the Nevadans who rely upon Planned Parenthood services. She implored upon Heller to get to know the LGBTQ and immigrant Nevadans who now fear seeking out the health care they need when she stated, “I wish Senator Heller comes to our office and answers our phones!”
Later on, U.S. Army veteran and community organizer Matthew DeFalco refused to mince words in denouncing Trump’s divisive rhetoric, rhetoric that has not fundamentally changed since he took office. “We didn’t fight abroad for the hateful, divisive rhetoric of Donald Trump!” He also noted the sacrifices of Muslim-Americans who have served alongside him in the military, sacrifices that Trump himself has declined to participate in. “When Donald Trump was using daddy’s money to avoid fighting in Vietnam, Muslims were fighting and dying.”
Heller may prove to be a pivotal swing vote in the U.S. Senate… Or not. When national news reports initially surfaced that Heller could be the deciding vote on Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as Education Secretary, local and national progressive groups quickly mobilized to flood his D.C., Las Vegas, and Reno offices with phone calls. Within hours, Heller attempted to quietly announce his acquiescence to Trump in supporting DeVos. Yet the calls continued, and they continued to the point of the lines being jammed at all three offices.
As America enters Week 3 of the Trump Presidency, progressives are hoping to sustain this resistance to Trump’s agenda. Is any of this making a difference? We’ll see in the days ahead, but at least we now have Senator Heller himself (or at least his D.C. staff) tweeting about his voicemail.