Obama Humiliates Faleomavaega; Tuna Interests Seem Clueless; Obamacare also a Problem; The Campaign is Well Underway
From ABCDEF Blog July 25, 2014
Announcement of Zone Humiliates Delegate
Even though he was not on the roster of speakers nor was he anywhere to be seen at Secretary of State John Kerry’s elaborate, international “Our Ocean” Conference, American Samoa Congressional Delegate Eni Faleomavaega, the Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Asia-Pacific subcommittee, isn’t dead. Nor is he in a coma and is not even bedridden any more. Indeed, he has been seen ever more frequently, even if only for photo opportunities, since he first emerged in March from his still unrevealed illness last October.
In fact, after a nine month and three day absence, he returned to the dais of the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week for a hearing on one of his pet issues: U.S. – India relations. Watching it from here on the Internet, he appears to have regained some of the weight he lost but he spoke from a prepared statement for his opening remarks, repeatedly stumbling over the text. Moreover, he seemed listless in the subsequent round of questioning, but he did stay for the entire hearing.
So, he clearly is well enough to consider substantive issues so imagine the humiliation Faleomavaega must have felt when, without any prior consultation with him, President Obama via video announced to the Our Ocean conference that he would be creating the world’s largest ocean reserve between American Samoa islands and Hawaii, a move that could have enormous ramifications for the fishing industry that is the foundation of the territory’s private sector.
The program of this year’s annual “Pacific Day” having been set before Obama’s surprise announcement, it does not appear that this embarrassment played any part in Faleomavaega not being on the program of an event he has dominated in years past. Even though he reportedly put in a brief appearance at the New Zealand embassy at the tail end of the embassy’s “Pacific Day” program and was introduced from the podium, he did not speak nor was he at the earlier seminar that was held prior to the island-style dinner and cultural entertainment.
Rather, Faleomavaega limited himself to issuing a subdued press release. While gamely playing the loyal foot soldier in the Obama army by saying he appreciated the President’s "focus on combating threats of overfishing and carbon pollution in the Pacific and their long-term negative effects on the health of our marine ecosystems and the livelihood of our people,” he went on to admit he was “very concerned that the stakeholders, including Territorial Delegates, the House Committee on Natural Resources, and U.S. tuna fishermen and processors, were not consulted in advance about the possible impact some of these initiatives may have on Pacific Island economies, including American Samoa, which is a single-industry economy almost entirely dependent on the U.S. tuna fishing and processing industry.”
Perhaps it gave him some solace—certainly some cover--to point out that he was not the only one caught by surprise but none of the others he named were among Obama’s earliest supporters when as a junior senator in 2008 Obama announced he would challenge Hillary Clinton for their party’s presidential nomination. It has been nearly six years now since Obama took office and the ailing delegate has little to show for his loyalty to the President. Every election he runs ads listing all the federal funds that have come to American Samoa during his tenure but ninety percent of those programs are formula grants that do not depend on who is representing the territory in Congress.
Obamacare Ruling Another Setback for Faleomavaega
As a matter of fact, Faleomavaega suffered yet another setback this week when the Obama administration took away Obamacare (ACA) from the territories. He and the other congressional delegates had backed their island governments’ pleas for tailoring the program to their special needs but up until now the response always has been “the law is the law and there is nothing we can do.” However, some government official discovered the Public Health Service Act definition of “state” had not been broadened to include the territories, so they solved their headache by pulling the rug out from under the islands altogether.
Once again Faleomavaega was forced to put his best face on the disaster by issuing a press release that played down the setback by saying “While I am pleased that a response has been issued, the response falls short of the request put forward by the Territorial Delegates to allow additional time for Congress to reconsider how our constituents could more fully benefit from the ACA.” The Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (WPFMC), which also was not consulted, issued a much tougher press release of its own, in which it said Obama's Marine Monument Expansion "Betrays US Fishermen."
Even though Faleomavaega said the White House had informed him that Obama “will seek input and comments from stakeholders, including fishermen, scientists, conservation experts, elected officials, and others in the region, to share their views before moving forward with these initiatives,” one WPFMC official lamented that he had never seen one of these zones modified once they had been announced. In other words, this is a done deal.
At the same time on ACA, while the delegate said “I will continue to work with my Congressional colleagues towards resolving our concerns,” he knows full well that his party does not have the votes it did in 2010 when Obamacare passed and he certainly is in no position now to get congressional changes to the law—not even if all the territorial delegates—all Democrats—acted in concert. If anything, the Republican held House most likely would want to strip Obamacare from the 50 states, not restore the program to the territories.
And that brings us to politics. If recent trends hold, Republicans will gain, not lose, seats in the House, further relegating Faleomavaega to long-term minority status and prospects look good for the GOP capturing the Senate as well. So perhaps the best hope he would have to mitigate the commercial damage of the new conservation zone is to enlist a Republican-controlled Congress to find a way to block Obama. But as a Democrat who has made a career of attacking Republicans, he is hardly in a position to have much influence on that side of the aisle. Nevertheless, Rep. Don Young (R-AK) has offered rollback legislation, but even if passed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wouldn’t consider it.
So, considering the fragility of his health and his lack of influence, Faleomavaega could not be faulted for retiring. Why put up with repeated humiliation at the hands of the President he backed so strongly at the risk of alienating Hillary Clinton? When the then Secretary of State stopped in Pago Pago a couple of years ago, the then-governor (now one of Faleomavaega’s opponents), Togiola Tulafono, asked her to allow American Samoa to take observer status at the Pacific Islands Forum, a request she granted. At the same time, Faleomavaega asked her to consider debt relief for Cambodia, a request she ignored. There may be a reason for that. While Faleomavaega was an early Obama supporter, Togiola backed Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination.
Earlier this year, Time Magazine revealed that Hillary keeps an enemies list and quoted a book on Hillary that said “Almost six years later most Clinton aides can still rattle off the names of traitors and the favors that had been done for them, then provide details of just how each of the guilty had gone on to betray the Clintons—as if it all had happened just a few hours before.” Most likely, as the Pago Pago episode demonstrates, Faleomavaega is on that list.
So it should come as no surprise that, as inappropriate as it was in the context of the hearing at which he was speaking in January last year, Faleomavaega tried to extend an olive branch to Secretary Clinton. CNS reported he “used his time during the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya to essentially give his endorsement for Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016, saying, ‘I salute you and I look ahead to 2016, wishing you much success and extending to you my highest regards.’" CNS also noted the irony that while he used his questioning time to open with a political statement, he went on to say “It is no good for any of us to use this tragedy for political gain. This was a terrorist attack, first and foremost. We must not lose sight of this brutal fact.” Irony? Try hypocrisy.
The Campaign Has Begun
Clearly he was trying to desperately make amends with the exiting chief U.S. diplomat but it is likely too little too late. That time was when he chose to endorse Obama. Yet, by all indications, he plans to push on. The American Samoa election office has made filing papers available to prospective candidates and six campaigns have picked up petition packets. The media have identified five candidates who have announced for the seat but the election office has declined to identify who has picked up the six packets.
While the media for some reason refuse to speculate, it is most logical to believe Faleomavaega supporters have picked up the sixth packet. Making a formal announcement and holding a campaign kickoff are not required. Indeed, in 2012 Faleomavaega did neither and still won a solid victory. As far as federal government authorities are concerned, one becomes a candidate for Congress when one files a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, and Faleomavaega has done that, albeit prior to his illness. (Note the timing: Faleomavaega made his endorsement of Clinton on January 23, 2013 and filed his 2014 candidacy on January 31, 2013). As far as the territorial government is concerned, one becomes a candidate when the papers and sufficient petition signatures are filed and fees paid by September 2.
Tuna Interests Seem Clueless; Or Is It Appeasement?
More telling as to his plans, he already has raised substantial funds since falling ill—over $40,000. That is more than all than all his opponents combined. As usual, many of the donations so far have come from big donors with Asian names. Perhaps surprising, however, he also has attracted a number of large donations from tuna interests. Surely they knew at the time there was little he could do for them, particularly while still recuperating in bed, but a more likely explanation is they donated to keep him from hurting them, even if he cannot help.
The fishing folks vividly recall Faleomavaega’s harangues against StarKist over the years for paying its executives major salaries while cannery workers have been paid well below the U.S. minimum wage. And they painfully know his role in promoting the law that is set to bring canneries workers under the U.S. minimum wage. Then there also is a secret amendment he offered on a Coast Guard authorization bill that would have loosened the rules on tuna boats that could fish Pacific waters under U.S. license without guaranteeing delivery to the territories canneries.
Even if the media are not connecting all these dots for the voters or even reporting on the candidates who are, you can bet that Faleomavaega’s opponents are working the villages to convince the voters the time has come to thank Eni for his service by retiring him so he can spend his remaining time more fully recovering from illness and enjoying his family.We can only hope they succeed.