Democrats pick new vice chair for Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), right, with Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. Photo by Office of Tom Udall

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will have a new vice chair during the next session of Congress.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) was selected by his fellow Democrats for the position on Wednesday. He has been a member of the committee since joining the Senate in 2009 and, prior to that, he served on a similar committee when he was part of the House of Representatives.

"I am enormously proud to represent and defend the sovereignty of New Mexico's 23 tribes and all Native American communities," Udall said in a press release. "Throughout my career, I have been committed to working alongside Indian Country to uphold our trust responsibility and support tribal communities in their work to build sustainable economies, provide good schools and quality health care, maintain access to clean air and water, and strengthen their connection to culture and tradition."

Udall succeeds Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) in the role. Tester served one year as chairman, during the second half of the 113th Congress, before taking up the vice chair's gavel during the 114th session in 2015 and 2016.

The committee typically acts in a bipartisan fashion when it comes to advancing Indian Country's agenda. But fissures have shown up recently on issues like reforming the Indian education system and addressing uncertainties in the land-into-trust process.

Still, under the leadership of Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the panel has considered and advanced far more pieces of legislation than its counterpart in the other chamber.

When the 115th Congress convenes in January, it will remain under Republican control. The party hasn't officially announced whether Barrasso will continue as chair of the committee although he has been chosen to lead the Republican Policy Committee again.

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