Senate Democratic campaign chairwoman pushes coronavirus response from kitchen table

Calls for standardizing tests, more access to small-business loans

Businesses across Las Vegas have been closed because of the coronavirus. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo) (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Businesses across Las Vegas have been closed because of the coronavirus. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo) (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 24, 2020 at 3:23pm

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has had to adapt to working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, and the chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee says her candidates have as well.

“I think everybody has adapted, not only in the work that I do daily on behalf of my state. I am regularly now following the CDC guidelines and sheltering in place, but I am at my kitchen table ⁠— that’s my desk now ⁠— and I am talking to the state through conference calls and Zoom meetings, and whether it’s Facetime or however, I can reach out to the community,” Cortez Masto said in an interview on Thursday.

“That’s no different for those candidates and incumbents who are running in this election cycle,” she said. “They are doing the same thing, continuing to use the technology that’s available to reach out to constituents and talk to them.”

Cortez Masto highlighted recently filed first-quarter fundraising numbers, which included just the first part of the now widespread stay-at-home orders.

“In the first quarter of this year, many of those candidates and incumbents out-raised their Senate Republican opponents. And so they’ll continue to engage, like we all have. We’ve had to adapt,” Cortez Masto said. “We’re going to figure out how we use the technology, TV, radio, social media, to still engage and talk with constituents around the state.”

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On the economic policy front, Cortez Masto and the rest of the Nevada delegation scored a major policy victory Friday with the release of a new interim final rule from the Small Business Administration granting small businesses with substantial revenue from gaming activities access to the paycheck protection loans enacted to allow businesses to keep workers on the payroll through coronavirus-related shutdowns.

“Nevada’s gaming small-business community is a vital part of our state’s economy, and they deserve the same access to federal aid as any other legal business,” Cortez Masto and fellow Nevada Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen said in a statement. “We are glad to see that our calls for reform were answered and this much-needed step is being taken to provide gaming small businesses in Nevada and across the country access to financial support and aid during this difficult time.”

In a portion of Thursday’s interview featured in the CQ on Congress Coronavirus Special Report podcast, Cortez Masto said the interpretation from Treasury and SBA was “outrageous” and so broad that small vendors with ties to the gaming industry were getting caught up in the restriction.

“It’s an old law that existed under the SBA 7(a) program. It is again to me something that is really not even supporting the intent of the CARES Act when we passed this legislation,” Cortez Masto told CQ Roll Call.

“There’s a number of businesses that make the actual equipment for some of these gaming properties, and so they make their money from gaming as well,” she said. “It’s not just in Nevada.”

Cortez Masto stressed testing as a key to reopening her state’s tourism-dependent economy, and she said the Trump administration should have already taken steps to promote interoperability in coronavirus testing equipment across multiple manufacturers.

“Each one of those tests are closed-loop. What I mean by that is, if you buy a test from one manufacturer, you can only use the supplies that are necessary for that test with that manufacturer’s test kit,” she said.

She praised the efforts of Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak to lead the response in Nevada but said the first she had heard of a federal effort to identify and coordinate laboratory capacity came just last week on a call with Vice President Mike Pence.

“That has contributed to the chaos that we see across the country. That’s why governors are competing with one another and the federal government. We should have just one test to identify the symptoms and a second test that identifies, as you well know, the antibodies that are needed,” Cortez Masto said.

“Every manufacturer should be manufacturing the same tests,” Cortez Masto said after calling for more widespread use of the Defense Production Act by President Donald Trump.

At the White House on Wednesday, the Trump administration declined to commit to releasing the data underlying a series of maps that had been presented at a press briefing earlier in the week. The maps highlighted the locations of lab capacity in several states.

“I will ask the companies because, obviously, it’s proprietary where every single machine is. And, you know, if you have that machine and five others, maybe you don’t want to know — let that person know you have five others. It’s kind of like Coke and Pepsi,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, the physician and diplomat who serves as the administration’s task force coordinator. “So I think we’re working very deliberately to really be able to share those maps.”

“And many of the governors were not aware that those laboratories were available,” the president said.

Cortez Masto praised the inclusion of substantial funding to ramp up testing capacity in the $483 billion emergency COVID-19 response funding bill signed by Trump on Friday that featured additional funding for the paycheck loans.

“I do support what we have done in this COVID 3.5 package of putting in $25 billion for that testing … to identify a national strategic testing policy, to have reporting so that we know regularly what is happening real-time on a national level,” Cortez Masto said. “We are entitled to that. The public’s entitled to know that. The governors and state and local leaders, every individual family and business should know what’s going on.”