If Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D–Nev.) is being honest, she can’t remember a time in her career when she had serious doubts about her ambitions. “I had two parents who told me I could do whatever I wanted,” the freshman senator recently told Glamour. “I was stubborn enough to believe them.” That’s not to say she didn’t face plenty of struggles and naysayers—she did—but it only motivated her to push back and work harder, and it paid off.
A former criminal prosecutor, Cortez Masto got her start in politics after she was sworn in as attorney general of Nevada, her home state, in 2007. She served two terms as Nevada’s chief law enforcement official before achieving two historic firsts with her 2016 Senate victory: Not only was she the first female senator elected from the state of Nevada; she became the first Latina woman to ever be elected to the Senate.
Though the upper chamber of Congress now has a record-high number of women in office—21, to be exact—that number is a far cry from being truly representative of the U.S. population. Cortez Masto knows this and sees that the problem is painfully clear in the makeup of the Senate staff, particularly for young women of color trying to navigate their roles on the Hill.
To help these staffers advance their careers, Cortez Masto recently launched a mentorship initiative to bring young women together to discuss how she can use her office, and work with other senators, to create a more engaging work environment. The first event, a lunchtime gathering known as Cafecito Con Catherine, was held in mid-March, and Cortez Masto already has plans for more. Following the inaugural Cafecito, Glamour caught up with the Nevada senator to talk about the importance of mentorships, the ways Democrat and Republican women are working together in the Senate, and how she plans to use her platform to champion progressive causes and fight back against Donald Trump.
Glamour: You recently kicked off your new initiative to engage female minority staffers in the Senate. How was your first session? Among the women you met with, what were their biggest concerns?
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto: Diversity is so important for me, particularly in the United States Senate, and it’s been important to every job that I’ve held. Whether you’re in government or the private sector, we should be just as diverse as the community that we represent. I brought together some Latinas who work here in the Senate, and we had a great discussion that will be the first of many. We discussed barriers that they saw, and they shared suggestions about succession planning and how we can bring greater diversity to our state offices and entry-level positions. My goal is to continue that discussion with Latinas—and create stronger mentorships, which are so important—and bring these initiatives to our AAPI [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders] community and our African American community. I’m excited to be able to have this discussion and do a deep dive into what the diversity looks like—and how we can open that door wider.
Glamour: I know that you’ve previously mentioned that, in your career, your supervisors and mentor figures have been male. As the Senate’s first Latina senator—and the first female senator from Nevada—how do you hope to use your role to mentor women? What actions do you hope Congress will take to better engage women of color and foster greater diversity?
CCM: For me, mentorships are key. It’s twofold: If you’re in a leadership position, you have an obligation to make sure you are mentoring young women and giving them opportunities to succeed. But before you even get into a leadership position, you should be identifying people who can serve as mentors and guide you in your career. When I was campaigning and young girls would find out that I was the first Latina with the potential to be elected U.S. senator, I heard so much excitement from them. I knew they looked at me and thought, If she can do it, I can do it too. I want them to think that. There are women who were trailblazers for me, and that’s why I’ve been successful. That’s what this is about. This is about opening that door even wider so they can take it even further than I have. I will always look at it from that perspective.
Glamour: There are currently 21 women in the Senate, which is a record high but is still woefully low. How would you describe the relationships between you and your fellow female senators? Is there a greater sense of camaraderie—and does it translate across party lines?
CCM: Yes, to both. In January all the women senators had our first dinner together—both Democrat and Republican. The dinner is something that I understand is a tradition. It’s not to talk policy; it’s to get to know one another, share stories, and build relationships. That, to me, is the most important part of it. It was one of the first things we did when I got here as a United States senator, and we’re going to continue it. Once you build those relationships, it’s easier to find common ground to work together on legislation and find solutions to the issues we’re dealing with in this country.
Glamour: Shifting gears, after November’s election, you made clear that you would be “one hell of a check and balance on Donald Trump.” You’ve been a cosponsor on a resolution meant to bring more transparency regarding Donald Trump’s ties to the Trump Organization, and cosponsored bills to nullify the travel ban and the suspension of federal funding to sanctuary cities brought forward in his first immigration order. When you were sworn in, did you anticipate there would be so many troubling executive actions coming through in such a short amount of time? And how do you anticipate expanding your role in countering Trump’s agenda?
CCM: You could see the path that he was taking on the campaign trail—his rhetoric and his efforts to pit neighbor against neighbor. He’s carried that into his administration. I’ve been very clear: In my world there’s no room for hate or discrimination in the White House. I will be an outspoken voice against that every time. That’s what you see happening now and why I’ve taken the actions I have, whether it is sponsoring legislation or introducing my own legislation. His agenda is having a horrific impact on our country and tearing our communities apart.
Glamour: As the granddaughter of a Mexican immigrant, how do you feel seeing Trump take such drastic measures to address immigration—be it the increasing number of ICE raids, DREAMers being detained, or his plan to build the wall? How will you use your office to address these actions?
CCM: It’s offensive. When he uses a broad brush to paint undocumented people, particularly those from Mexico, as criminals, it’s wrong. And I know—I was the top law officer for the state of Nevada. It was not the undocumented out there committing all those crimes. He’s also talking about my family. He’s talking about my grandfather who did nothing other than come to this country for an opportunity to succeed. He was able to do that because that was the America that I grew up in—one that was open to immigrants. Now we have a president who wants to shut the door. It’s wrong, and I will call that out every time. If this administration really wants to create jobs and grow our economy, what we should be focused on is passing comprehensive immigration reform. Studies show that by passing it, it improves the economy. It would reduce our deficit by a trillion dollars. It would increase our gross domestic product [by an estimated $700 billion over 10 years]. We need to push back on Trump’s false facts and false narratives. We need to make sure we’re telling the truth.
Glamour: Earlier this month the House GOP introduced their intended replacement for the ACA, which would, among other things, defund Planned Parenthood, make abortion more inaccessible, and remove maternity care from the health services covered under federal law. It would also strip millions of the health care that came from the expansion of Medicaid. What kind of message do you think this sends to voters, many of whom are already angry about the prospect of losing their insurance?
CCM: We’re talking about Trumpcare now, which, to me, is a lie to the American public. The administration said everyone would have access to health care and everybody would be able to afford and keep their coverage. That’s not true, and we see it playing out right now. I come from the state of Nevada, where a Republican governor not only created the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange but expanded Medicaid. We now have over 300,000 people in my home state who were able to get health insurance. The only thing that Trumpcare would do is roll it back and take it away from them. They’re gutting Planned Parenthood. They’re gutting our community resource centers. They’re gutting our hospitals. It’s the wrong way.
Here’s the reality. What we should be focusing on—and finding solutions for—is ensuring that every American has health care in this country, no matter what level, no matter what age. No one should die because they can’t afford health insurance. No one should go bankrupt because they can’t afford it. It starts with keeping what works in the Affordable Care Act and improving what doesn’t. It doesn’t start with a campaign promise to repeal it just because Republicans said they were going to do that for seven years. They’re going to harm too many people across this country.
Glamour: Reports indicate the House of Representatives will vote on the bill later this week. Have you spoken to any of your Republican colleagues in the Senate about what will happen should the bill pass in the House? I know Sen. Susan Collins (R–Maine) isn’t keen on defunding Planned Parenthood. Is there any dissent in the Senate and any chance that it won’t pass?
CCM: Absolutely there are concerns—and rightfully so. There are some Republican senators who are concerned that Trumpcare is going to harm constituents in their state, and those senators are right. It is going to be taking away health care for so many people. And not only are Republican senators I have heard from and have seen talking about it in the press worried, but we have Republican governors, including mine, who have said that Trumpcare would be the worst thing for their constituents. If you are taking away Medicaid and rolling back the expansion—or turning it into a block grant that shifts the cost burden to the states—that means millions of people will lose that access. Those who did have it are going to lose their coverage and additional people who need coverage won’t have insurance. They won’t be able to get prescriptions filled or get to a doctor when they’re sick. That’s not how we should be finding solutions to this issue.
Glamour: Earlier this month women throughout the country went on strike to protest Donald Trump and ongoing inequality and sexism in society. Securing equal pay for equal work and raising the minimum wage were foundations of the demonstrations, and I know those were issues that you addressed during your campaign. How are you hoping to champion them as a senator?
CCM: It’s about the economy and growing the economy. It’s about economic security for individuals. That comes from having a job with a livable wage, receiving equal pay for equal work, and being given paid family leave. I’m going to fight for all these things because it all comes down to the economy, growing it, and making sure that your economic security is addressed.
Glamour: Another cornerstone of your campaign platform was pursuing renewable energy sources. Since Nevada has been a leader in renewable energy investments, would you continue to follow the lead of your home state in the Senate? And since we now have an EPA director who doesn’t believe carbon emissions contribute to climate change, how do you hope to use your platform to speak out against that line of thinking?
CCM: I am fortunate to be on several committees in the Senate that will impact what I want to continue fighting for, and that gives me the ability to meet with policy makers and discuss measures that invest in clean energy—including solar, geothermal, and wind. Nevada has benefited already, but we can do more. We can lead the country in clean-energy efforts and create jobs. Going down this path will also address climate change issues. I believe in the science, but the challenge that we’re going to have—and that we’ve already seen—is dealing with an administration that wants to cut funding for science programs and take us back to the dark ages. That’s not where we should go. Technology is going to continue to evolve, and we should be at the forefront of it. We should continue to innovate. We should be leaders in clean technology and green energy.
Glamour: In the rhetoric of the Trump campaign, there was a lot of emotional appeal to the coal industry and coal miners—particularly in regard to restoring jobs that may never come back. Do you think there could ever be a shift in states where coal was once a major industry to invest in renewable sources? Do you think you could work with other senators to not only create jobs but to move away from fossil fuels?
CCM: There is tremendous opportunity to work together if we come with that goal in mind. But when you have the Koch brothers and big industry lining the pockets of elected officials who are rolling back regulations—and giving them tax breaks to continue their big oil subsidies—we’ll be kept from going down that path. We have to push back and fight. At the same time, it is about jobs and making sure we’re creating jobs, investing in workforce development, and retraining individuals who are losing certain types of jobs so they have the skill they need to succeed. That’s what we haven’t done enough of. It is possible to shift the tide, and we should be investing in a skilled workforce—and workforce training—for the future. We are in a technological age. It is continuing to evolve—and fast. We should not only embrace it, but we should realize that what our skilled workforce is going to look in the future will change. We need to be training people to be prepared for it.
Glamour: As a whole, what is your hope for your time in office and how would you like to use your platform—as well as your new mentorship initiative—to further incorporate women in politics?
CCM: I want to continue down the path of promoting diversity. For me, it’s second nature. We should always be thinking—and doing—in those terms. There’s nothing wrong with it, and more important, we should be succession planning and prepared for it. I’m going to talk to my colleagues about it. I’m going to be working on the Rules Committee here in the Senate to continue to promote diversity.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.