Amodei slams Sisolak threat over federal funds for Douglas County following Trump rally

Ray Hagar writes for and co-hosts Nevada Newsmakers. He is a former politics reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal.

U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei voiced stinging criticisms of Gov. Steve Sisolak on Nevada Newsmakers recently for threatening to withhold Douglas County’s share of federal coronavirus relief funds.

Sisolak’s threat came after county officials allowed President Donald Trump to stage a large outdoor rally, breaking the state’s ban on public gatherings during the pandemic.

The Republican congressman told host Sam Shad that Sisolak may be trying to prove ‘he’s got the biggest stick in the state.”

“So what is the upside?” Amodei said about Sisolak’s threat about the $8.9 million of federal relief funds. “What are you going to gain by doing this? I’ll tell you what I’ve come up with — a big goose egg.

“Are you trying to prove you’ve got the biggest club in the state?” Amodei continued. “And I don’t want to be critical of the governor but this just befuddles me.”

The interview with Amodei, done last week in Washington D.C., will be broadcast Wednesday on Nevada Newsmakers.

The gathering at the Minden Airport had no official crowd size but various reports estimated it to be about 5,000 people. The state’s pandemic rules cap public gatherings during the pandemic at 50.

Douglas County officials, however, had signed an agreement with the state before the Trump rally, agreeing to follow all the state’s pandemic guidelines, including those limiting public gatherings, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

More:Sisolak: Douglas County could lose COVID relief funds after OK’ing massive Trump rally

Sisolak, in an emailed response to Nevada Newsmakers, said he was disappointed in Douglas County leaders and that he has been “clear and consistent” in dealing with the COVID crisis.

His statement read: 

“I have appreciated working in concert with Congressman Amodei and every Member of the Nevada Congressional Delegation since the beginning of the COVID pandemic,” Sisolak said. “We came together because we put the health and safety of our State ahead of politics.

“Congressman Amodei acknowledged that the ‘state is doing well in terms of managing the challenge of COVID,’” Sisolak said. “Unfortunately, he failed to credit the sacrifice and vigilance of Nevadans and the mitigation measures we have adopted as a state to make that possible.

“Every county and municipality who received CARES funding from the State of Nevada certified that they would follow our emergency directives and mitigation measures, which keep their communities safe from COVID-19,” Sisolak said. “In fact, the State signed a similar certification with the Federal government to qualify for federal resources. Congressman Amodei knows this history.

“I remain disappointed that some leaders in Douglas County decided not to follow COVID emergency directives,” Sisolak said. “But as Governor, my top responsibility is to protect all Nevadans and Douglas County residents need and deserve these resources regardless of the short-sighted decisions by selected local leaders.

“I am surprised that Congressman Amodei was taken aback my steadfast support for protecting Nevadans from COVID,” Sisolak said. “I have been clear and consistent on these matters since the outset of the pandemic.

Sisolak’s action won’t go over well in the 2nd U.S. House District, Amodei said. Amodei, raised in Carson City, has represented the district in Congress for almost 10 years.

“For those folks in that part of Nevada which I represent, this is going to leave a scar that ain’t going away,” Amodei said in a video message  to the Building Contractors of Douglas County. “It is going to be a permanent scar. And quite frankly, I stand with them.”

Amodei’s district includes Reno, Douglas County, Carson City, Elko, Fernley and Fallon. It is Nevada’s only congressional district with a current Republican representative. The 2nd U.S. House District voters have chosen the Republican candidate in every election since the district was created after the census of 1980.

“I just don’t understand what kind of message it sends to the rest of the state, and especially to CD2,” he said. “What message are you sending to CD2 about your leadership for the state? I’ve read the letter to the vice president, it’s like, please feel free to fill in some of those gaps. I don’t want to fight with the governor but it is astounding.”

Amodei was referring to a letter Sisolak sent to Vice President Pence, the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, saying that Trump’s two visits to Nevada “packed thousands of people” into areas the Center of Disease Control had deemed “high risk.”

Trump also held an indoor rally the day after his Minden rally in Henderson, at the Xtreme Manufacturing warehouse. It, too, drew thousands, although no official attendance was released. In his letter, Sisolak noted the White House’s own pandemic guidelines limit gatherings in high-risk areas to 25 people.

Amodei defended U.S. citizens’ constitutional right to assembly in both rallies.

“When you have the C word in front of them, which is constitutional, that makes it pretty important,” Amodei said.

He mentioned what he called another “C word,” consistency. He added Sisolak’s pandemic directives have none.

“And by the way, I’m looking for the letter (from Sisolak) to the Vice President about how disappointed he was with the rallies that happened in Reno a little while back. There was not a peep about that,” Amodei said.

He was referring to protests that turned violent in downtown Reno after the death of George Floyd in late May. The downtown area suffered extensive damages, at least one car was burned while some people were injured and others arrested. Reno City Hall suffered an estimated $100,000 in damages, with Mayor Hillary Schieve calling it a State of Emergency.

“It’s a flat line, zero communication about that (from Sisolak) and yet we’re gonna pick on these (Douglas County) guys?” Amodei said.

The lack of consistency in Sisolak’s policies has been centered on allowing casinos to be 50 percent full — which could mean hundreds of people — when all other public gatherings are capped at 50. Amodei questioned if any members of Sisolak’s gubernatorial staff have mentioned the inconsistencies of the pandemic directives to the governor.

“I would think somewhere on that staff, someone is going, ‘Are we being consistent? Are we working with locals, working with cities and counties and the private sector?’ And there are days when it seems like, ‘No we are not,’” Amodei said.

Some Nevadans are reportedly concerned that Trump’s rallies in Minden and Henderson could become virus super-spreader events. Although Amodei did not address those concerns, he said Nevada health officials have a good handle on the pandemic.

“And you know what? Time will tell. We’ll see what happens in Douglas County but right now, as far as the state goes, the state is doing well in terms of managing the challenge of COVID.

“You look at the COVID statistics in the state right now and they are good,” Amodei said. “And so people are doing a good job. The federal government sent over $14 billion and it doesn’t have to be paid back for hospitals, testing, doctors, medical providers, for schools and everything else.”

Amodei praised Nevada’s federal delegation’s response to the pandemic, saying Nevada’s members of Congress should “declare victory.”

He added: “We’ve sent over $14 billion to the state in six months. That is more than the state — not the cities and counties — more than the state spends in a year.”

Nevada’s team in the U.S. Senate, Democrats Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, both signed on to the letter Sisolak sent to Douglas County. Amodei, however, said the two senators won’t feel voters’ wrath because of it. Cortez Masto is up for re-election in two years.

“Two years is forever in politics and the big advantage they have right now is that they are not the chief executive of the state, who set the tone for this. And while they may say ‘I support him,’ I think they have the luxury of doing that because they can always pivot to, ‘Here’s what we did to help you out in Fallon. Here’s what we did there. Catherine’s done work on the Rubys (Ruby Mountains, Elko County), which we hope will be successful. There will be multiple stuff for them to point to.”

Ray Hagar writes for and co-hosts Nevada Newsmakers. He is a former politics reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal.