On Saturday, May 13, about 30 Indivisible volunteers gathered at Battle Born Progress’ Las Vegas office to discuss Donald Trump, Congress, health care policy, education, state and local government, and much more with Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Las Vegas). Before Kihuen returned to Washington, D.C., he engaged in open dialogue with these Nevadans on what he can do to advance a more progressive agenda in this hostile federal environment.
Kihuen stayed at the gathering for over two hours to listen to Southern Nevada Indivisible activists’ concerns and share ideas on how to fight back against Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans’ far-right agenda. He thanked the activists for their work, then encouraged them to stay active.
“Now, more than ever, we need you speaking out.” – Rep. Ruben Kihuen
Kihuen kicked off a lively dialogue on the American Health Care Act, the Trumpcare bill that will roll back Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance coverage and protections if enacted. Kihuen described how he always suspected House Republicans would sneak the bill through, even when it seemed dead as a doornail in March. “We knew this would be a fight. We knew this was something they wanted to get done.”
ShaeAnn Clements, one of the health care activists who confronted U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R) at the private Latin Chamber luncheon the previous day, asked Kihuen to co-sponsor Rep. John Conyers’ (D-Michigan) single-payer health care bill. So did Amy Vilela, the CFO-turned-activist at Nevada for Healthcare-Now! whose daughter, Shalynne Ramos, died at Centennial Hills Hospital due to the hospital’s refusal to treat her.
“It tears a scab out of my heart. […] My daughter died because she had no insurance.” – Amy Vilela, Las Vegas
Kihuen explained to the audience the heavy lift ahead in defeating Trumpcare. He later promised to consider single-payer and other proposals to improve upon the ACA once Trumpcare is defeated in the U.S. Senate.
“It is of our utmost importance to protect what we have in place. […] My focus is on protecting what we have, and then we will expand.” – Rep. Ruben Kihuen
Trumpcare was far from the only issue discussed at the event. Kihuen emphasized the importance of picking the right battles to fight… And win. “Our time is limited. We need to maximize it as much as possible.”
Kihuen addressed what he considered the “partial victory” of the budget deal that keeps the federal government open through September. “There was no funding for the [U.S.-Mexico border] wall. There was no funding for Yucca Mountain.” But with the Trump Administration and some Republicans in Congress continuing to pursue the nuclear waste dump in Nevada, Kihuen urged activists to remain on high alert.
Kihuen voiced frustration over House Republican leaders’ refusal to consider his STEP for Veterans Act to authorize grants to community colleges to provide job training for military veterans seeking to re-enter the civilian workforce. “We have a very high percentage of unemployed veterans. Instead of recruiting from out-of-town, we could help our own.”
Yet despite Kihuen’s drive to write and advance a “bipartisan bill” to help veterans, he cited Congressional Republican leaders’ nonstop electioneering as reason why even the least controversial bills from him and his Democratic colleagues are being blocked in Congress. Kihuen also blamed the White House for fostering an increasingly toxic culture in D.C. “Donald Trump refuses to work with Democrats. That’s the bottom line. […] The President’s focus is in the wrong place…Why not talk about moving something forward?”
Despite these challenges, Kihuen vowed to fight on. He reminded the Indivisble activists that he comes home to Nevada every weekend, and that he travels throughout the Fourth Congressional District as often as he can. (Kihuen’s district stretches all the way from Summerlin and North Las Vegas in Clark County to Ely and Yerington in rural Northern Nevada.)
“I’m not afraid to face my constituents.” – Rep. Ruben Kihuen
Kihuen stayed for a few more minutes after the program to speak with activists, including those health care activists who had asked him about single-payer. Whether or not it was intentional, Kihuen’s open dialogue with progressive activists struck a sharp contrast with his Republican colleagues who have either struggled to answer questions from constituents,or have refused to hold any public town halls at all. With so many policies being debated in Congress, and so many constituents demanding answers from their elected representatives, will more of Kihuen’s colleagues agree to do this?