Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) serve as co-chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus, a bipartisan group that aims to educate lawmakers about Indian issues. But some of their colleagues don't appear to be listening. Photo: Rep. Tom Cole

Core group of Republicans vote against Indian Country bills

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A small but consistent group of Republicans have emerged as opponents of Indian Country legislation in the few roll call votes that have taken place so far in the 116th Congress.

On Monday, as the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R.91, the Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act, 18 members voted against a bill that improves living conditions at treaty sites in Oregon and Washington. All were Republicans but none publicly explained their opposition.

"This bill is, in my estimation, a reasonable approach," said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who was the only GOP member who talked about the bill during debate in the afternoon. "I have no objection to passing this measure today."

A month ago, when the chamber approved H.R.297, the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians Restoration Act, 20 Republicans voted against a bill to extend federal recognition to the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians. They did so even though a fellow GOPer is the sponsor of the measure.

"This Congress should provide the Little Shell Tribe with the federal recognition it deserves, particularly after its eight decades of dedicated efforts," Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Montana) said of a measure he described as "uncontroversial."

H.R.1388, the Lytton Rancheria Homelands Act, cleared the House on that same day. Again, a group of Republicans -- 21 to be exact -- voted against a bill to help the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians reclaim a small portion of the homelands they lost at the hands of the federal government.

"Neither the Obama nor Trump administration has provided a reason why the tribe's application has not been approved in the last 10 years," said Rep. Paul Cook (R-California), who is the highest-ranking Republican on the recently-established House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States.

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: House Debate on Indian Country Bills - April 29, 2019

The votes on H.R.297 and H.R.1388, which took place on March 26, could be seen as anomalies. But when they are compared to Monday's roll call on H.R.91, a pattern begins to emerge among Republicans, who lost control of the House in the 2018 elections and currently hold 197 seats in the chamber.

The pattern shows that the GOP opponents of Indian Country legislation, by and large, hail from the House Freedom Caucus. These conservative and libertarian lawmakers often go against their own party's leadership -- and sometimes even President Donald Trump -- on any number of issues, not just tribal ones.

And while the group does not disclose who belongs, some have openly admitted to being a part of it. The list of known members happens to coincide neatly with those who have been voting against the Indian Country bills.

The group has about 32 members so not all of them opposed the tribal bills. But, almost always, the lawmakers who voted against H.R.91, H.R.297 and H.R.1388 have come from the House Freedom Caucus,

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: House Debate on Indian Country Bills - March 26, 2019

The bloc includes Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan), who voted against the Little Shell and Lytton Band bills last month. But he ended up supporting the Columbia River treaty bill on Monday so maybe representing a district in Michigan that's home to Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians indicates he's willing to change his mind now and then.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), whose district in east Texas isn't home to any tribes, followed the same pattern. So did Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Alabama), whose district in Alabama doesn't include any Indian Country either.

Similar patterns were seen among other Freedom Caucus members, as almost all of them voted against just two of the three Indian bills. In fact, only one of them voted against all three. That was Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), whose district in Texas isn't home to any tribes.

The only other Republican who voted against the Little Shell, the Lytton Band and the Columbia River treaty bills was Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tennessee), who is not known to be a part of of the Freedom Caucus. But his political campaigns have been supported by high-profile members like Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina), the chairman of the group, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), another prominent member. Meadows and Jordan voted against the Little Shell recognition bill but not the others.

Historically, most Indian bills are never put to a vote in the House. Instead, they are considered under a suspension of the rules, a process typically used for non-controversial legislation that has the support of both parties, regardless of who is in charge of the chamber at any particular time.

The procedure usually allows for Indian bills to gain passage by a simple voice vote, although a formal roll call can always be requested, as was the case with H.R.91 on Monday, and with H.R.297 and H.R.1388 last month.

In comparison, no roll call was requested on Monday for H.R.317, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Land Affirmation Act. The bill restores about 1,400 acres to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians in central California.

"There is nothing controversial about this bill," said Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-California), who is the sponsor of the measure. "It simply ensures the tribe has the ability to provide housing for its members. I can't think of anyone who really should take issue with that effort."

The 116th Congress began in January, with the House under Democratic control and the Senate in Republican hands. The session marked the first to be divided between the two major parties since 2013.

But for the first time in history, two Native women are serving in the House. Both Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) and Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) have taken it upon themselves to advocate not only for the needs of their communities, but for tribal nations as a whole.

"I just feel our country is in need of a tremendous history lesson on who we are, where we are, and what the trust responsibility is to tribes," Haland told leaders of the United South and Eastern Tribes when they met in the nation's capital last month.

“You know every chance I get, I work on that," said Haaland, a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna who has been elected to serve as co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. She is the first Native woman to help lead the bipartisan group of more than 75 lawmakers.

The other co-chair is Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), who is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. Their selection marks the first time that Native people are leading the group.

Indianz.Com on YouTube: Rep. Deb Haaland at USET Impact Week

One of the goals of the caucus, which was formed in 1997 to address repeated attacks on tribal sovereignty, is to help educate fellow members on Indian legislation. But the effort isn't always met with open arms, according to Haaland.

"There are a few of my colleagues who have really shown their ignorance on this issue," she said. "I've offered: 'Let's meet, so I can explain this to you' and they haven't taken me up on that yet."

"But I'll keep trying," Haaland said.

Haaland and Cole aren't the only Native people in leadership positions within the Congressional Native American Caucus. Davids, who is a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), who hails from the Cherokee Nation, serve as vice chairs of the group. There are eight total -- four Democrats and four Republicans.

Roll Call
So who is is voting against Indian Country bills in the 116th Congress? In three roll calls over the past two months, a core group of Republicans have emerged as opponents.

H.R.91 - Roll 168
• Rick Allen
• Andy Biggs
• Ken Buck
• Ted Budd
• Tim Burchett
• Bradley Byrne
• Ben Cline
• Virginia Foxx
• Bob Gibbs
• Paul Gosar
• Mark Green
• Glenn Grothman
• Barry Loudermilk
• Thomas Massie
• Ralph Norman
• Tom Rice
• Chip Roy
• Van Taylor
H.R.297 - Roll 129
• Rick Allen
• Justin Amash
• Andy Biggs
• Mo Brooks
• Ken Buck
• Tim Burchett
• Ben Cline
• Michael Cloud
• Warren Davidson
• Louie Gohmert
• Andy Harris
• Jim Jordan
• Mark Meadows
• Dan Meuser
• Alex Mooney
• Gary Palmer
• Martha Roby
• Chip Roy
• Randy Weber
• Ron Wright
H.R.1388 - Roll 128
• Robert Aderholt
• Justin Amash
• Bruce Babin
• Rob Bishop
• Mo Brooks
• Tim Burchett
• Michael Burgess
• Michael Cloud
• Warren Davidson
• Louie Gohmert
• Glenn Grothman
• Andy Harris
• Debbie Lesko
• Alex Mooney
• Ralph Norman
• Gary Palmer
• Tom Rice
• Martha Roby
• Mike Rogers
• Chip Roy
• Randy Weber

Note: In addition to the 20 Republicans who voted against H.R.297 on March 26, 2019, one Democrat -- Zoe Lofgren -- also voted against the bill.

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