Banging drums, blaring air-horns and chanting slogans, more than 50 protesters rallied Friday outside the Las Vegas Country Club to criticize House Speaker John Boehner, who was in town to raise money for U.S. Rep. Joe Heck’s re-election campaign.
“Together, John Boehner and Joe Heck have failed Nevada,” said a flier circulated ahead of the demonstration and urging Nevadans to show up at the protest that began at 10:30 a.m. under warm, sunny skies.
Boehner, R-Ohio, was the featured speaker at the fundraiser for Heck, R-Nev., at the country club near the Strip. The cost was $2,600 per person to attend a 12:30 p.m. roundtable and 1 p.m. luncheon with Boehner and Heck. The contribution was $1,000 per plate for the lunch only.
Laura Martin, a spokeswoman for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said 11,000 people are getting deported each day while Congress drags its feet in approving comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented people living here.
“We can’t play politics with people’s lives and families,” Martin said.
Demonstrators waved U.S. flags and carried signs saying “Stop Separating Families” and “Stop Playing Games.” One drummer banged so hard on his instrument that he broke through the drum’s skin. Passing cars honked in solidarity.
Chants switched from English — “Do your job! — to Spanish: “Queremos la reforma!” or “We want reform.”
Artie Blanco of the AFL-CIO said Republican leaders have failed to do their jobs, including by not extending federal unemployment benefits before going on break this coming week.
“They should take responsibility and do their jobs,” Blanco said. “All they care about is getting re-elected.”
The fundraiser was closed to the general public and the media, which is not uncommon in an era where a video clip of a politician’s off-the-cuff comment can become political fodder for opponents.
The protest was organized by the AFL-CIO as well as pro-immigration and progressive groups. Members of Democratic clubs also used Twitter, Facebook and other social media forums to organize.
The protesters accused GOP House leader Boehner of failing to prevent a government shutdown last year, failing to extend unemployment benefits for 17,000 Nevadans — or 1.3 million Americans — and failing to pass comprehensive immigration reform, a hot-button issue dogging Heck’s campaign as well.
Heck, however, has promoted immigration reform and met with advocates to get their points of view. He also is developing his own proposal that would allow children of parents in the country illegally to become U.S. citizens if they complete higher education or serve honorably in the U.S. military.
Mark Ciavola, Heck’s campaign manager, called the demonstration a “political stunt.” He noted that Heck has been a GOP leader working on immigration reform, jobless benefits and creating jobs.
“Congressman Heck is working hard to find solutions,” Ciavola said. “What the AFL-CIO is saying is very misleading.”
Boehner, too, is working on immigration reform proposals that would update the system step by step — beefed-up border security, a worker verification system for employers, a reformed work visa program and earned legal status.
Last year, Senate Democrats passed a bill that would provide comprehensive immigration reform, allowing immigrants in the U.S. illegally to seek citizenship in a process that could take 13 years. Democrats want full reform now while Republicans want to take smaller measures one at a time.
The two political parties also are at an impasse over extending unemployment benefits. Heck has signed a letter urging Boehner to bring an unemployment bill to the floor. But the measure is stalled — in the Senate as well — as the parties debate how to pay for the extension and how long it might last.
On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., and U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., both signed a letter with 100 House Democrats urging Boehner to keep the House in session until an unemployment insurance bill is approved, although the House went on a break anyway.
Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 9 percent.
Heck’s Democratic opponent, Erin Bilbray, slammed him for raising money instead of staying in Washington, D.C., to work.
“It seems Speaker Boehner and Joe Heck are too busy trying to keep their jobs instead of doing their jobs,” Bilbray said in a statement. “It’s no wonder this is the least productive Congress in American History.”
Heck’s campaign said Bilbray was being disingenuous since former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in August hosted a similar fundraiser for Bilbray’s campaign in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay. Hosts were asked to donate $2,600, sponsors $1,000, friends $500 and supporters $250.
“Calling it ‘swanky’ is just more political spin,” said Heck campaign manager Ciavola. “But then again, it’s in her blood and has been her livelihood for the past decade. Let’s not forget she has already attended a fundraiser with former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and has received plenty of ‘swanky’ (by her definition) contributions.”
Bilbray is a political consultant who founded Emerge Nevada to train female Democratic candidates.
Contact reporter Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.