In Context: Laxalt’s Comments on Latino Businesses

In the tight Senate race in Nevada, where nearly a third of the population is Latino, the campaigns of Republican challenger Adam Laxalt and Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto have been locked in a dispute over remarks Laxalt made about the impact of the pandemic on Latino jobs and businesses.

The Cortez Masto campaign claims that Laxalt “said it was ‘good news’ that small Latino businesses suffered during the pandemic because he thought it would benefit him politically.” But Laxalt’s campaign accuses its opponent of “deceptively editing audio” of his remarks, which it says were intended to make the point that Democrats are to blame for job losses and business closings.

A Spanish-language Facebook ad from the Cortez Masto campaign includes an audio clip of Laxalt (with captions in Spanish) saying, “I think the good news is that now we’re a year [unintelligible] … a lot of those jobs never came back. A lot of those Hispanic small businesses never reopened.”

A caption next to the video on the senator’s Facebook page says (in Spanish), “Adam Laxalt said it was ‘good news’ that small Latino businesses suffered during the pandemic because he thought it would benefit him politically. He is not fighting for Nevada, only for himself.”

The Cortez Masto campaign has made similar claims in press releases. One on Sept. 16 claimed that Laxalt “has consistently attacked the Latino community in Nevada, saying it was ‘good news’ for him that Latino-owned small businesses closed during the pandemic.” Another on July 29 says that Laxalt said that “Nevadans losing their jobs and Hispanic small businesses closing was ‘good news’ for him.” Both press releases link to a Twitter post from Nevada Democratic Victory, a group working to elect Democratic candidates in Nevada, that says Laxalt “calls pandemic job losses good news. Seriously.

Courtney Holland, Laxalt’s campaign communications director, said Cortez Masto is “deceptively editing audio to spread misinformation and lie about Adam Laxalt.”

“The unedited audio makes it obvious that he said the good news about Democrats being in complete control in Washington and in Nevada is that Nevadans can clearly see Biden and Cortez Masto are responsible for wrecking the economy, hurting small businesses and Latino workers, and causing record inflation and gas prices,” Holland told us via email.

The comments in question come from a Jan. 28 interview on the “Steak for Breakfast Podcast.” The comments begin around the 40:13 mark, but a shortened clip that captures most of this section of the interview was also posted on Twitter by Republican adviser and strategist Matt Wolking.

Below, we provide the full context of the remarks, so readers can judge for themselves. We put the words used in the Cortez Masto Facebook ad in bold.

Laxalt, Jan. 28: Think about how bizarre 2020 was —

Host: Yeah.

Laxalt: — that, you know, we have COVID crashing, you’ve got blue states that are basically not allowing a president to visit and deliver a message, you know, our Democrat governor shut down the state. And you know, I called as early as May [2020], that we shouldn’t be shut down. The state can’t be shut down. You can leave it up to individual businesses, people can make their own decisions, but of course, you know, they plowed directly on, and then what do they do with that? We lose so many jobs in Southern Nevada —

Host: Yeah.

Laxalt: All of those strip jobs are lost. And so I’m thinking, all right, well, finally, all these voters are going to blame the Democrats for these terrible lockdown policies, right? Well, you guys may remember the Democrats’ message at the time was, [it’s] Donald Trump’s fault. He’s not doing enough for COVID.

Host: Yep.

Laxalt: It’s his fault why you lost your job. And I was thinking at the time, like, God, there’s no way anyone’s going to buy that. But apparently, you know, some slice of voters really thought it was his fault. I think the good news is that now we’re a year [the audio drops for a couple seconds] … a lot of those jobs never came back, a lot of those Hispanic small businesses never reopened, and guess who is in charge? We have a Democrat governor, a Democrat House, a Democrat assembly, a Democrat president, Democrat Senate, Democrat House of Representatives. And it’s 100% their fault. And so the media can’t cover for them. They’re going to try, we all know, but the media can’t do what it did in 2020 and basically blame the pandemic on Republicans. And so, we’re seeing an awakening here. I think people are really, really fed up. We’re one of only a handful of states that still have mask mandates. You know, you walk into these places, you’re like, God, how are we still putting on masks? Considering all the information we have about masks.

Host: Right.

Laxalt: But, you know, here we are. And I think the good news is, while some of this is doom and gloom, I’m not happy it took so long for people to come around. But boy, are people coming around. You know, people are really waking up to the, all of these hypocrites and all the different rules they play by, then they expect all of us to play by, and they know that it’s hurting our kids.

So Laxalt does frame the loss of Hispanic jobs and small businesses as “doom and gloom,” and his point seems to be that because pandemic-related job losses and business closures remained after Trump left office, that demonstrates to voters that “it’s 100% their [Democrats’] fault.”

The Latino unemployment rate in Nevada in January, when Laxalt made his remarks, was 6% — which was significantly higher than the pre-pandemic rate of 3.4% in February 2020. But as of this past July, the Latino unemployment rate was down to 2.2%, according to the state Department of Employment, Training & Rehabilitation’s Research & Analysis Bureau.

For all workers, the Nevada unemployment rate was 5.2% in January, when Laxalt made his remarks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s higher than the pre-pandemic 4% unemployment rate in February 2020. It was 4.4% in August. So, it still hasn’t returned to the pre-pandemic level for all workers.

Laxalt also expressed incredulity that “some slice of voters” would believe that Trump was “not doing enough for COVID” when he was in office and that that was the cause of job losses. Whether the White House response led to job losses is a matter of debate, but numerous medical experts and even a leader of Trump’s coronavirus task force have alleged that Trump was “not doing enough for COVID.” 

A global panel of experts on the Lancet COVID-19 Commission issued a report on Sept. 14 that said, “US federal officials repeatedly downplayed the importance and risks of the outbreak.” A timeline we published in October 2020 documents numerous instances when Trump downplayed the risks of COVID-19.

An ongoing review of the federal government’s response to the pandemic by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office in January 2021 faulted the Trump administration for failing to implement a “clear and comprehensive vaccine distribution plan” and said GAO had made many other recommendations — most of which it said were ignored by the White House.

Since leaving office, Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump’s former COVID-19 response coordinator, has repeatedly criticized the Trump White House’s response to the pandemic in interviews and congressional testimony

In June, Birx told a House subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis that the lack of “concise, consistent communication about the seriousness of the pandemic resulted in inaction early on across our agencies” and “created a false sense of security in America.”

Asked at a hearing in October 2021 whether she thought Trump did everything he could “to mitigate the spread of the virus and save lives during the pandemic,” Birx replied, “No. And I’ve said that to the White House in general, and I believe I was very clear to the president in specifics of what I needed him to do.”

“I believe if we had fully implemented the mask mandates, the reduction in indoor dining, the getting friends and family to understand the risk of gathering in private homes, and we had increased testing, that we probably could have decreased fatalities into the 30% less to 40% less range,” Birx said.

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