FROM THE ARCHIVE

GOP faces last day in power

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JUNE 5, 2001

The Republican party faces its last day in control of the Senate today as Democrats prepare to take over legislative committees and alter President Bush's environmental, spending, judicial, and agenda.

But some GOP members aren't taking the transition ightly. Unless the Democrats can guarantee fair consideration of President Bush's political and judicial nominees -- some of whom have fought against tribal sovereignty -- they are threatening a filibuster to prevent a smooth power transfer.

"If we don't get that assurance or some assurance, you know, in this vein, then I think we're going to have some hard times organizing," said Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) on Fox News Sunday. He is chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, which set the existing committee membership lists.

Regardless of the potential dispute, though, Democrats are ready to assume leadership for the first time since 1994. After Jim Jeffords of Vermont officially leaves the Republican party today, Tom Daschle of South Dakota on Wednesday will be recognized as the Senate Majority Leader.

Daschle, considered a friend to Indian Country but who opposed setting Leonard Peltier free, has already proclaimed an issue affecting tribes dead. In Nevada last week to help raise funds for Senator Harry Reid, he said a proposed nuclear waste facility in Yucca Mountain wouldn't move forward with Democrats in control.

Area tribes and state officials oppose the project, which is intended to store highly radioactive waste from nuclear plants throughout the country. To address growing demand, Bush's national energy policy calls for the construction of more nuclear power plants, thus facilitating a need for a waste repository, said the President.

Democrats have also declared Bush's push to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska as finished. The Gwich'in Nation opposes drilling for fear it will damage the Porcupine caribou herd while the Inupiat Eskimo-owned Arctic Slope Regional Corp. supports development, expecting financial benefits.

Critics of the FBI, including many in Indian Country, will see some of their issues aired once Patrick Leahy takes control of the Judiciary Committee. He plans to hold full-scale hearings on problems at the troubled agency.

"I think it is time that Republicans and Democrats, using the Judiciary Committee, do an overall look at the FBI, an in-depth look to find out why mistakes were made," said Leahy on the CBS Sunday program Face the Nation.

Even though Republicans still control the House, at least one Democratic Congressman is using this week to blast Bush on the environment as well. Along with tribal leaders, Representative Nick Rahall of West Virginia tomorrow (*) will hold a press conference criticizing the Bureau of Land Management's approval of an exploratory well in Weatherman's Draw in Montana, a site considered sacred to a number of tribes.

Rahall is the ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee. which has jurisdiction over Indian issues. In an editorial published in this week's edition of Indian Country Today, Rahall says he will use the position to "preserve tribal sovereignty."

"Not only are we going to fight, but we are going to win," writes Rahall.

In a Washington Post / ABC News poll released today, 50 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of environmental issues, up from 41 percent in late April. Some 58 percent disapprove of Bush's actions on the energy situation, up from 43 percent.

A majority of Americans trust Democrats at handling these two issues better than Bush, while 68 percent want the President to compromise with Democrats, according to the poll.

* - The conference is on Wednesday, June 6, not today as earlier reported.

Get Rahall's Editorial:
West Virginia's Nick Rahall vows support for Indian country (ICT 6/6)

Related Stories:
Poll: Approval of Bush declining (6/5)
McCain denies own challenge to Bush (6/4)
Outgoing GOP leader blasts Jeffords (5/31)
Shift in Senate means changes for Indian Country (5/25)
BLM allows oil exploration at sacred site (5/22)
Sacred site slated for oil exploration (5/21)
Tribes protest drilling decision (5/8)