Sen. Dean Heller was already having an extremely bad week, all entirely of his own making. For whatever reason, the extremely vulnerable Nevada Republican—the only one running in 2018 in a state that went for Clinton last year—decided he was going to vote against his constituents in order to stick with his party.
Oh sure, he tried a symbolic effort at acting like a human being—he offered a toothless amendment to Trumpcare affirming that he liked Medicaid, an amendment that failed 90-10. But then he decided to split from his popular Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, and go blithely down the skinny repeal path. Heller had been basically tethered to Sandoval up until that point, using the governor to take his initial stand against earlier iterations of the bill. Following that first, principled stand, Heller’s standard answer to where he stood on the bill was some variation on ‘it depends on what Sandoval says.’
Well, Sandoval came down on the last-ditch skinny repeal effort, the one Heller voted for, in a letter he signed onto with a bipartisan group of governors. “The Senate should also reject efforts to amend the bill into a ‘skinny repeal,’ which is expected to accelerate health plans leaving the individual market, increase premiums, and result in fewer Americans having access to coverage,” they wrote. And Heller voted for it all, seemingly inexplicably. Once McCain had become the third no vote, Heller was free to vote no. His was the second to last vote, long after Arizona Sen. John McCain had cast the deciding vote to sink the thing.
But maybe Heller’s decision isn’t so inexplicable, after all. After his little show with Sandoval, there was this: “But Mr. Heller, perhaps the most vulnerable Republican senator on the ballot next year, has by no means escaped the wrath of Mr. Trump and his vocal supporters, including two billionaire casino magnates, Sheldon G. Adelson and Steve Wynn.”
“All of the Trump supporters I talk to are furious with Heller,” said Danny Tarkanian, the son of the legendary Nevada basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and a frequent Republican candidate for office in the state. Mr. Tarkanian said he was considering taking on the senator next year and had been encouraged to do so by some of the president’s ardent grass-roots admirers.
Tellingly, here’s the Adelson-owned Las Vegas Review Journal’s report on the Trumpcare defeat. It reports how “John McCain of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted against the legislation.” It gives a quote from Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, it quotes McConnell and Schumer. What’s missing? Any mention—any at all—of Heller’s vote.
So it seems he bought something with the vote—Adelson’s silence. For now.