Gov. Steve Sisolak and President Donald Trump didn’t exactly get off to a great start, and recent events suggest they’re not heading for a buddy movie ending.
The relationship started with the Democratic governor snubbing the Republican president. Now as the nation’s states are working to get their share of federal coronavirus funds, the president is snubbing back the man to whom he has given the nickname, “clubhouse governor.”
What does “clubhouse governor” mean? “The President is referring to how the partisan Nevada Governor is doing this only because of politics,” an aide told the Review-Journal last month.
In February 2019 when he attended his first National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington, the newly elected Sisolak boycotted association functions held at the White House to protest the Department of Energy’s secret shipment of weapons grade plutonium to the Nevada National Security Site northwest of Las Vegas the year before.
At the time, Sisolak told the Review-Journal, “To go to a fancy White House dinner when I’ve got this hanging over Nevada, I didn’t think it was appropriate.”
At the time White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere told the Review-Journal: “The Trump administration is open to discussions with the governor on this topic as well as others. Gov. Sisolak has been invited to the White House twice in the last two months and turned down the invitation both times — that partisan approach is disappointing.”
Sisolak’s decision did not inspire copycats. A month later, Attorney General Aaron Ford skipped a White House event, but he told the Review-Journal a scheduling conflict was the reason and “definitely not” a boycott.
Shortly thereafter Nevada Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall, also a Democrat, attended a workforce development roundtable at the White House. “It’s important that Nevada has a seat at the table, and I look forward to continuing the conversation with stakeholders back home,” she said in a statement.
In early February as a nod to political reality, Trump announced he was reversing his prior moves to fund re-licensing for a nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain.
“Nevada, I hear you on Yucca Mountain and my Administration will RESPECT you! Congress and previous Administrations have long failed to find lasting solutions — my Administration is committed to exploring innovative approaches — I’m confident we can get it done!” Trump tweeted.
Then the coronavirus gave the two executives common ground.
In April, when the Review-Journal asked Trump if he supported Sisolak’s decision to shut down nonessential businesses to slow the spread of the pandemic, or if he agreed with Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman’s view that the shutdown was “total insanity,” Trump took Sisolak’s side.
Noting that the order adversely affected his eponymous Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, Trump responded, “It’s a very severe step he took. I’m OK with it. I’m OK with it. But, you know — I mean, you could call that one either way.”
In recent months, coronavirus has presented new areas of conflict.
In May, Trump protested against Nevada’s decision to allow universal mail-in ballots which he called “illegal” and fraud friendly, as he suggested that he could “hold up funds to the State.” There was no follow-up.
On Aug. 3 when Sisolak signed a measure to send mail-in ballots to active registered voters that allowed so-called ballot “harvesting” in November, Trump called it “an illegal late night coup” that was “using COVID to steal the state” and make it impossible for Republicans to win. The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit that challenged the measure’s constitutionality.
Also on Aug. 3, Trump directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reduce states’ reimbursement allocation for National Guard troops deployed to help with their COVID-19 response from 100 percent to 75 percent. The White House made it known that governors could call Trump to appeal for full reimbursement, which Trump did for Texas, Florida, California, Connecticut and Louisiana.
Sisolak has requested a phone call with Trump, but a call has yet to be scheduled.
On Aug. 8 Trump signed a memorandum that created an additional $300 of weekly unemployment insurance benefits for which states would have to apply. On Wednesday, Nevada became the last state to apply for those benefits.
“While the President wished the Governor moved faster to leverage the unemployment benefits made possible through his executive action, the President is pleased that Governor Sisolak finally took his own action to support the hardworking people of Nevada,” a White House official told the Review-Journal in an email.
Asked about relations between the Nevada governor and U.S. president, the official responded, “The Trump Administration remains committed to working with governors on both sides of the aisle in every state across the country to help the American people. In Nevada, the president’s policy on Yucca Mountain reflects the reverence he gives to the voices of the people.”
“I don’t know if there is a relationship,” Nevada GOP chairman Michael J. McDonald offered, before adding that he thinks Trump cares about Nevadans.
In May, the Trump Department of Justice warned Sisolak that his ban on in-person gatherings of 50 or more in churches and other places of worship could violate the First Amendment.
The Review-Journal reported, Sisolak’s office called Metro to learn why police hadn’t shut down an Evangelicals for Trump event held on Aug. 6 at the Ahern Hotel.
“At this time, no call has been scheduled in regards to the Nevada National Guard reimbursement,” Sisolak spokeswoman Meghin Delaney told the Review-Journal. “The Governor’s Office followed up with the Administration as recently as this week with a request to schedule a call and emphasized the critical role the Guard has played in the state’s ongoing effort to combat COVID-19.”