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Sisolak boycotts White House events in wake of plutonium shipment

Updated February 23, 2019 - 5:42 pm

WASHINGTON — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak is boycotting functions at the White House during a weekend winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

The decision was a reaction to the Department of Energy’s secret shipment of a half-ton of weapons-grade plutonium to a federal facility north of Las Vegas last year, and the administration’s failure to respond to a letter the governor sent to the administration seeking information after he learned of the covert shipment in January.

“I haven’t got so much as a response back from the letter we sent them,” Sisolak told the Las Vegas Review-Journal at the NGA winter meeting Saturday in Washington, “and my No. 1 focus and concern is to protect the citizens of the state of Nevada and that’s what I intend to do.”

“To go to a fancy White House dinner when I’ve got this hanging over Nevada, I didn’t think it was appropriate,” Sisolak said, adding that he would be happy to meet with President Donald Trump to discuss the plutonium shipment “any time, any place.”

Sisolak did not attend a Friday lunch for governors and their spouses with Vice President Mike Pence at his official residence.

Sisolak and his wife, Kathy, who accompanied him to Washington, will skip a White House ball hosted by Trump and the first lady. Sisolak also plans to skip a Monday morning governors-only briefing at the White House.

“It’s disappointing that Nevada’s new governor would choose not to take up his concerns with senior administration officials despite being given that opportunity,” White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said in a statement.

“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.”

In December, the White House invited Sisolak to attend an event for new governors. Sisolak spokeswoman Christine Amestoy told the Review-Journal the then-governor-elect was grateful for the invitation but had to decline because it was “crunch time.”

The other invitation was for an NGA event.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, said that he had not followed the plutonium controversy but that NGA provides a great opportunity for people from both parties to get together, and “I think it’s unfortunate when we don’t do that.”

In a statement sent to the Review-Journal, Sisolak faulted the administration for failing to answer questions included in a Feb. 6 letter to Energy Secretary Rick Perry about the plutonium shipment, which was sent to a federal facility north of Las Vegas without the knowledge of then-Gov. Brian Sandoval or any member of Nevada’s congressional delegation, according to the letter.

“I am ready to meet face-to-face with President Trump today, tomorrow, or any time to have a serious, substantive conversation about stopping Nevada from becoming the nation’s nuclear dumping ground. The people of Nevada will not be taken advantage of, and fancy political receptions will not make our concerns go away,” the statement said.

Politicians pointedly boycotting White House events are nothing new.

Some 60 Democratic lawmakers boycotted Trump’s January 2017 inauguration. Nevada’s three House Democrats at the time – Dina Titus, Ruben Kihuen and Jacky Rosen – and Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto attended Trump’s swearing in.

When Perry was Texas governor, he scheduled an interview with a reporter in 2009 during President Barack Obama’s inauguration, Dallas Morning News editorial writer Michael D. Lindenberg reported.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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