Nevadans are expecting big things from President-elect Joe Biden, whether it’s beating the coronavirus pandemic, reviving the economy or fixing a broken immigration system.
More than 674,000 voters (and counting) in the Silver State put their faith in Biden, helping propel him to the White House over President Donald Trump.
Biden doesn’t take office until Jan. 20, but Democratic lawmakers and activists here are already touting his plans to move the nation forward.
U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., says the time of “chaos and confusion and not working in a cooperative manner” — hallmarks of Trump’s term — is over.
The economic and health crisis
Nevada, where the economy is driven by Las Vegas and its resort corridor — still at half-capacity as it emerges from closures brought on by the pandemic — is in desperate need of assistance.
Historic unemployment rates, currently at 12.6%, have brought much suffering — food banks are short on supplies and many of those still jobless because of the pandemic face housing evictions, all while the vulnerable are still at an increased risk of catching the coronavirus.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., whose district makes up Las Vegas proper, said some sort of relief might come during the lame-duck Congress and Trump’s final days in office. Absent that, the administration changes Jan. 20.
“If they don’t get something during this interim, and who knows what Republicans are going to do … we’ll get something soon under the Biden administration,” Titus said.
Even if Congress passes a relief package before Biden enters the White House, Titus said that wouldn’t preclude it being beefed up afterward. She said Biden’s ability to negotiate across the aisle could help in swaying Senate Republicans to approve more relief if the party remains in control of the U.S. Senate.
“Once Trump is gone, you can see some Republicans who will want to negotiate some of this because it’s (both) red states and blue states that need this money,” Titus said.
Horsford said that work on additional coronavirus relief needs to happen in the lame-duck session, though he said lawmakers may be able to go further once Biden is in office.
“It may have to be to be limited just to the period of time until the next administration can get in place, but it needs to get done,” Horsford said.
Unlike Trump, Biden has signaled his desire to help states make up the holes in their budgets brought on by business closures during the onset of the pandemic. Gov. Steve Sisolak called an emergency session of the Nevada Legislature this spring to deal with a $1 billion state budget shortfall.
Biden has said he would establish a renewable fund for state and local governments to help address budget shortfalls.
Biden’s plan to deal with the pandemic involves an increased testing plan nationwide, including free testing, additional drive-thru testing sites and the creation of a Pandemic Testing Board.
Titus said the country would not have been able to take four more years of Trump’s approach to the pandemic.
“(Biden has) got a plan to deal with it, and he’s shown that throughout his campaign,” she said.
Southern Nevada has gone more than 200 days without measurable rainfall, and the frequency and intensity of wildfires in Nevada and the Western United States are expected to grow as the climate crisis continues.
“Trump was utterly catastrophic for the future of our climate, and Biden is the path to ultimately addressing the climate crisis,” said Patrick Donnelly, the Nevada state director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Trump criticized Biden on the campaign trail for comments about banning future oil and gas permits on public lands and falsely sought to frame Biden’s comments as support for an outright ban on fracking.
The environmental community in Nevada has for years pushed back on oil and gas leasing on public lands. In 2018, outcry was sufficient enough for the U.S. Forest Service to deny a Bureau of Land Management request to open the state’s Ruby Mountains to fossil fuel leasing.
Biden has also said that on the first day of his presidency he would rejoin the Paris Climate Accords. This was a historic agreement that required signatories to regularly report on their plans to mitigate climate change within their borders.
Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement.
“Paris is symbolic,” Donnelly said. “Rejoining Paris would be a symbolic demonstration that America is ready to rejoin the rest of the world in engaging on this issue.”
Renewable energy has also long been part of the discussion around diversifying Nevada’s economy, making the state less reliant on tourism.
In 2016, a Brookings Institute study identified clean energy as a “high-potential target for Nevada because it capitalizes on the state’s renewable resource base, its established geothermal expertise and headquarters strength.”
Biden’s plan would invest $400 billion in renewable energy over the next 10 years, The plan, Biden says, would create over 10 million jobs.
Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., said Biden’s plan would help kickstart the economy.
“I’ve seen firsthand how investment in solar energy, infrastructure and small businesses creates thousands of good-paying jobs in Nevada and has the potential to diversify our economy,” Rosen said in a statement.
Horsford also said Biden’s plan could be important to advancing the Moving Forward Act, a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package that House Democrats passed this summer but has not been taken up by the GOP-controlled Senate. Should the Senate ignore the House legislation during the lame-duck session, Biden has proposed his own $1.3 trillion infrastructure package.
Biden has also been a longtime opponent of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository. Trump had included money in past years’ budgets to kickstart relicensing of the site but backed down from supporting it this past February.
Biden’s win means that further development of the site, which many Nevada experts and politicians say is too seismically active to be safe, is likely to be frozen for at least his term in office.
While Trump continued to roll back protections for immigrants, Biden is embracing their status.
Las Vegas is home to 13,000 residents who are enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. These Dreamers, who came to the United States as children, faced the end of the program and an uncertain future in the country under Trump. Trump also signaled ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadorans, Hondurans and Haitians who had emigrated to the United States, of which about 6,300 reside in Nevada. TPS allows citizens of nations facing war or natural disasters to live and work here.
Astrid Silva, a DACA recipient and the executive director and founder of Dream Big Nevada, said Biden’s time in office would see “a much kinder approach to immigrant lives in general.”
“If President Biden were to reinstate DACA, that would be life-changing for so many of those young people that we have been working with,” Silva said.
Titus said immigration reform under the Biden administration would likely include a path to citizenship. Though changes to DACA and TPS could be accomplished via executive order, she said, changes for the millions of other undocumented immigrants would require congressional action.
Maria Nieto Orta, a DACA recipient, said after the election that Biden was representative of a larger swath of the state than Trump.
“It’s important to keep electing people who represent not just one community, but the community in general,” she said.
Silva remains a realist about the plight of immigrants, even with Biden in the White House.
“I’m not one that believes that overnight there’s going to be a magic wand and life is going to be beautiful,” she said.
The politically powerful Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which represents thousands of casino workers in Nevada, came out hard for Biden in the general election. The union had more than 400 members working to get out the vote in Las Vegas and Reno.
Now, he’ll have to deliver for them.
Geoconda Argüello-Kline, the union’s secretary-treasurer, expects Biden will work on extending and increasing unemployment benefits for workers, among other issues.
“The country will have hope right now,” Argüello-Kline said. “We can see President-elect Biden really understands how to move the country in a different way economically, in a safe way with the pandemic, and unite people.”
Sonja Whitten, vice president for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 4041, said Biden would push for public service and frontline workers’ protections related to the pandemic.
“If we’re in a position where additional workers are laid off or cut … that further delays our ability to recover at a city and state level,” Whitten said.
She said it was “unconscionable” how many frontline workers have been placed in harm’s way during the pandemic.
Biden’s stated policies are geared toward making both union membership and union formation easier. He’s also said he would create a Cabinet-level working group to promote union organizing and collective bargaining.
“I know that it’s important that we get this pandemic under control, and in order to do that, we have to have leaders at the federal level that understand that their one job is to protect Americans,” Whitten said.
Biden campaigned on increasing the federal minimum wage to $15, which he said would “reduce the racial wage gap because more people of color will get raises.” It’s currently at $7.25 per hour, and $9 in Nevada.