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Break-in, ‘threatening note’ at office of GOP senator considered swing vote in health-care bill

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 7/17/2017 Amy B Wang
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Police said a “threatening note” was found over the weekend after a break-in at the Las Vegas office of Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican who could be a critical swing vote on the GOP health-care bill.

Las Vegas police said officers responded to a call about a burglary alarm Saturday morning at Heller’s office in southwest Las Vegas. There, they discovered what they described in a statement as a “threatening note” addressed to Heller (R-Nev.) near the door to his office.

The Nevada Independent’s Jon Ralston reported that the note was related to the Senate’s upcoming vote on the GOP’s health-care bill:

 

A note taped to Sen. Dean Heller’s campaign office was from someone asserting that he would lose his health care if the key senator voted for the repeal bill and that he would die if that happened and would take Heller with him, a law enforcement source said.

 

Police said Monday that they would not disclose the contents of the note, citing an ongoing investigation. Megan Taylor, a spokeswoman for Heller, confirmed the break-in but said that she could not comment, because of the investigation.

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Heller has been under pressure from the left and the right over his vote on the health-care bill. Republican lawmakers have been steadfast for years in their promise to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health-care measure — a pledge Donald Trump frequently invoked on the campaign trail.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., during a news conference where he announced he will vote no on the proposed GOP health-care bill. on Friday, June 23, 2017 in Las Vegas. © Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., during a news conference where he announced he will vote no on the proposed GOP health-care bill. on Friday, June 23, 2017 in Las Vegas. However, as The Washington Post’s David Weigel pointed out, Heller is the only Senate Republican facing reelection in 2018 in a state won by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton last year. His unique position has made him the focus of several advertising campaigns trying to lobby for his vote.

Last month, Heller came out against an earlier iteration of the GOP’s health-care bill, becoming the fifth Republican senator to do so at the time. At a June 23 news conference, Heller said he was particularly concerned about potential cuts to Medicaid, as well as the impending loss of insurance for those struggling with mental-health and substance-abuse issues.

“I’m telling you right now, I cannot support a piece of legislation that takes away insurance from tens of millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Nevadans,” Heller said then.

Three weeks later, Heller is in no less a precarious spot when it comes to voting on the GOP’s new proposal to remake the ACA, unveiled by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week.

Two Republican senators — Susan Collins (Maine) and Rand Paul (Ky.) — have publicly said they continue to oppose the GOP’s health-care bill. Just one more no vote from a Republican senator would mean the bill would not have the 50 votes it needs to pass.

When Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced over the weekend that he needed to recover from surgery and would be absent from a vote, McConnell said the Senate would postpone it.

The incident at Heller’s office follows similar incidents involving other GOP senators in recent weeks. Over the July Fourth recess, a protester was arrested outside the Tucson office of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) after allegedly asking a staffer: “You know how liberals are going to solve the Republican problem? They are going to get better aim.” And an Omaha man was arrested this month after walking into an Iowa motorcycle shop and allegedly saying that he “could kill” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who was scheduled to visit the shop the next day.

The break-in also came just three days after the Federal Election Commission ruled that House and Senate lawmakers may now use campaign funds to pay for security upgrades at their personal homes — a change from previous rulings that required lawmakers to petition the panel on a case-by-case basis. But after warnings from House and Senate security officials in the wake of the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), the FEC said that security upgrades now qualify as “ordinary and necessary expenses” lawmakers incur as part of official duties.

Security upgrades at congressional district offices are handled with taxpayer funding, and Congress is preparing to spend tens of millions more dollars to protect lawmakers and their staffs. All 435 House lawmakers are receiving $25,000 in emergency funding added to their annual office allowances to be used for any security purpose — a nearly $10.9 million expense that can be used to add bulletproof windows at district offices or to hire a private security guard for public events back home. And at least $5 million is earmarked for the House sergeant at arms to pay for security upgrades at House district offices that face threats or are considered vulnerable.

The Senate, which has fewer district offices to protect, has not yet allotted such money. Responsibility for securing Senate district offices, which are usually found in federal buildings or courthouses, depends on the location. If it shares space with a federal agency that also has a law enforcement responsibility, that agency probably provides protection. If the office is in a courthouse, U.S. marshals probably provide security. But if the office is in a private building, a senator’s staff has probably made arrangements with local police or the building’s private security officers to keep an eye on the location.

This post has been updated.

Read more:

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