Kamala Harris vows to protect private insurance at Las Vegas event

Sen. Kamala Harris speaks to an audience member who had a question during UNITE HERE‘s town hall on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, at Culinary Union Hall in Las Vegas. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Arizmendi, 8, meets presidential candidate Kamala Harris after a town hall hosted by UNITE HERE on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, at Culinary Union Hall in Las Vegas. Arizmendi is followed by her mother, Dora Olivia Arizmendi and sister, Melanie Arizmendi. Her mother is a housekeeper at Caesers Palace. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) Sen. and presidential candidate Kamala Harris speaks to the crowd at town hall hosted by union UNITE HERE on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, at Culinary Union Hall in Las Vegas. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) candidate and California Sen. Kamala Harris is seen through a union member‘s phone before she takes the stage at a town hall hosted by union UNITED HERE on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, at Culinary Union Hall in Las Vegas. UNITE HERE Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165 represents more than 60,000 workers in Las Vegas and Reno. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) crowd roars as Las Vegas Culinary Union Vice President Leain Vashon leads chants at a town hall hosted by UNITE HERE on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, at Culinary Union Hall in Las Vegas. "One job should be enough," chanted the audience. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) candidate Kamala Harris laughs while speaking to the crowd at a town hall hosted by union UNITE HERE on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, at Culinary Union Hall in Las Vegas. Harris compared her upcoming political battle to the union‘s past fights. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) HERE hosts a town hall for union members to ask presidential candidate Kamala Harris questions on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, at Culinary Union Hall in Las Vegas. Harris mentioned that the UNITE HERE Culinary Workers Union Local 226 helped shape her healthcare policy plan. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) HERE President D. Taylor celebrates as presidential candidate Kamala Harris takes the stage at a town hall on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, at Culinary Union Hall in Las Vegas. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) of the crowd at a UNITE HERE town hall ask presidential candidate Kamala Harris questions on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, at Culinary Union Hall in Las Vegas. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) candidate Kamala Harris addresses the crowd at a town hall hosted by union UNITE HERE on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, at Culinary Union Hall in Las Vegas. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal) candidate Kamala Harris speaks about President Donald Trump during her speech to a UNITE HERE town hall on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, at Culinary Union Hall in Las Vegas. Harris focused on topics including healthcare and immigration. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

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Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris returned to Las Vegas on Friday to field questions from the state’s powerful culinary union, which pressed the California senator on immigration, the looming election battle with President Donald Trump and the conversation-consuming health care debate.

The fiery crowd of mostly union workers with a few politicians sprinkled in began the night by chanting union slogans, and it was not shy about yelling affirmations toward Harris as she spoke for about 40 minutes.

This was the first in what will be a series of town halls held by Culinary Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165, the Nevada affiliates of UNITE HERE. Predetermined audience members asked the questions.

Medicare for All? Local 226 Vice President Leain Vashon made one thing crystal clear as he hyped up the crowd before Harris’ remarks: “We are not going to give our health care up for anybody.”

Harris, an early supporter of the “Medicare for All” plan to eliminate private insurance in favor of government-sponsored, universal health care, gave a welcome answer: “I’m not getting rid of private insurance.” Harris has drawn criticism for seeming to sway on this issue, but she credited the culinary union with helping her reach a position on health care that allows for private insurance, provided it meets certain standards.

Background, fighting words hit home. Two of Harris’ key talking points — her diverse background as the daughter of immigrant parents from two corners of the globe and her promises to “prosecute” or “take the fight” to Trump — were warmly received by the ethnically diverse, feisty union members. She compared the future political fight to unseat Trump to previous and ongoing fights undertaken by the union, which drew loud, positive applause.

Labor, justice and civil rights. Harris accused Trump and fellow Republicans of holding up legislative progress on workers’ rights, civil rights and criminal justice reform. “The people in power not working on behalf of the people, and working people are suffering.”

Republicans criticize Harris’ commitment to Nevada. In a statement, the Trump campaign accused Harris of “abandoning Nevada,” citing recent reports her campaign will shuffle staff to Iowa in an all-out push. Nevada GOP spokesman Keith Schipper also said Harris does, in fact, plan to strip Nevadans of private health insurance.

Undecided. Victor Chicas, a local culinary union member for 14 years, said he liked Harris’ tough stance on fighting for middle class issues, but he will wait for the other candidate forums before making a choice.

He was far less bullish than union leadership on the health insurance issue.

“Our health insurance is the best insurance,” he said. “If we keep that (level of quality) with zero cost, we’ll be OK.”

Rory Appleton at or. Follow on Twitter.

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