The only U.S. senator to support his colleague Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential race was Democrat Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Last year, he filibustered against the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch. This year, he was refused entry when he tried to visit a former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, that was being used as a holding facility for migrant children taken from their parents. He is now campaigning for other Democrats around the country, including Jacky Rosen of Nevada.
Are there Western issues that are particularly engaged in this election?
Oh, absolutely. You think about the fact that we’re in a fight for the success of families, and that’s a Western issue. Certainly our success on housing and health care and education and living wage jobs—but we also have those issues that are relevant to us out here with our common values of our public spaces and our public lands and the importance of preserving them, protecting them and our ability to enjoy this beautiful God-given terrain that we’re so fortunate to live in the middle of. … And, of course, we’re facing a huge threat with the climate chaos, the carbon pollution that’s overheating our planet and doing such damage to our water resources. And, of course, we’ve seen some smoke here in Nevada, and the smoke is part of the set of forest fires that are occurring also as a result of climate chaos.
What kind of a grade would you give the Trump administration on public lands?
Well, it’s pretty close to an F. The interior secretary [Ryan Zinke] said when he was under his [confirmation] process for nomination that he was going to be Teddy Roosevelt, that he was going to be a champion for our public lands, but we’ve seen—actually, I don’t think of a single thing that he’s done that’s designed to improve our public lands or our access to them.
I sometimes tell high school students about how Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act. They can’t even conceive of such a thing. How did we get here?
There are moments of cooperation that we should remember. In 2013, we passed the Employment Nondiscrimination Act on a bipartisan basis. Teddy Kennedy had asked me to champion that in the U.S. Senate, and I did, because he was sick. … And we would have passed that in the House if it had been put on the floor of the house, but the Republican leadership blocked it. … To your broader question, we now have a split news media. We have a world in which many people hear one version of the world from news outlets that are kind of sharing the conservative approach and others that are serving the progressive, or putting forth the progressive approach, which means we have to work a lot harder to—it’s a bigger divide, we have to try to bridge that divide.
Tell me why Nevadans who are concerned about Yucca Mountain would reject Heller’s seniority for Rosen?
What you have is a champion who is going to be so effective in Jacky Rosen. You have right now an incumbent who hasn’t delivered on health care or housing or education or living wage jobs, certainly hasn’t delivered on the environment which is so important to those of us in the West. So she would be a powerful force, following on with the tradition of Harry Reid, who really laid out the map for how to protect Nevada.