MEMO TO FALEOMAVAEGA: WATCH SABLAN AND GABBARD SHOW YOU HOW IT'S DONE
From ABCDEFG Blog August 19, 2014
He isn’t dead. He isn’t in a coma. He isn’t incapacitated. He’s been receiving visitors in his office since March. He’s been speaking on the Floor of the House since April. He’s been participating in committee hearings since June. So, whether he was going to be on the House Natural Resources Committee-led congressional delegation (CODEL) to the Pacific or not this month, he certainly had the capability of weighing in on the itinerary and agenda of the trip.
After all, Rep Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS) is the second most senior Democrat on the Full Committee and the most senior Democrat on the subcommittee of greatest importance to American Samoa: Fish, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs (FWOIA). Moreover, it is not like this trip was put together hastily at the last minute. The CODEL is using a military aircraft, and that cannot simply be ordered up from the Pentagon at the last moment like a taxicab. Even if American Samoa were just a refueling stop added at the last moment, which would have been even worse because it would have meant that the CODEL was not planning to stop there at all, he could have had a say.
So, there can be only a limited number of reasons why Faleomavaega was not a member of the delegation: either his physicians have told him he was not yet medically fit to fly; he did not want the people in American Samoa to see how bad he looks until he regains more weight and strength; or he hoped by staying away he could draw attention away from the visit and downplay its significance in an effort to minimize public awareness of his absence.
Because we could not get any closer to the congressional delegation than anyone else not inside the airport VIP room, and since no one but one congressional candidate has said one word about the visit—not the governor, not the delegate’s chief of staff nor anyone else in or out of the room, we have had to rely on the accounts of others even to find out who was on the delegation. It appears we were slightly off. The delegation consisted not of two full committee chairmen, three subcommittee chairman and two Ranking Minority Members, but of two full committee chairmen, five subcommittee chairmen and one Ranking Minority Member.
According to press accounts from other stops, U.S. Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) was not a member of the delegation but two others were: Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), Chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Rep. Rob Woodall, Chairman of the powerful Rules Subcommittee on Legislative and Budget Process. All legislation must pass through the Rules Committee before being considered on the House Floor.
In our previous post we suggested the importance of this delegation but let Northern Marianas Delegate Gregorio “Kilili” Sablan (I-MP) characterize it: “this is certainly the most important congressional group to visit the Northern Marianas at one time.” He made this comment when introducing the group on Saipan, which they visited over the course of two days following stops at Pago Pago; Auckland, Rotorua and Christchurch, New Zealand; and Sydney, Newcastle and Darwin, Australia.
Whether any of those other cities were refueling stops is unclear but Saipan decidedly was not. Nor were there any media restrictions for security reasons or otherwise. Indeed, it is puzzling what kind of security threat the delegation thought they faced here. The delegation also got full coverage in the local papers and several of the members agreed to interviews for the local television station.
Delegation leader U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) told the press that “Kilili exerted a special effort to convince them to come over. ‘He pressured us again and again,’ he said in jest.” Perhaps in jest but it did take the kind of persistence that apparently our delegate could not or would not exert. When you are only working limited hours anyway, energy spent taking to the House Floor to denounce the nickname of the Washington football team or praise the election of new prime minister of India is time that could have been devoted to working with Doc Hastings on the CODEL itinerary and agenda.
On Sablan’s immigration bill that already has passed the committee, Hastings told the press that when he returned to Washington he would be pressing the House leadership to schedule a Floor vote before Congress adjourns. In contrast, a Senate Omnibus Territories Bill that Faleomavaega in a big showy press release commended the Senate for passing, is thought to have little chance of clearing the House, which has only a dozen legislative days remaining before adjournment for the midterm elections. That bill also might have drawn Hastings’ attention if Faleomavaega were on the trip to push for it, especially during a stop here. By now, our local media certainly must be aware of the contrast of the CODEL stops here and in Saipan. So, it is time for them to ask some questions on behalf of the public they are supposed to serve.
- Why wasn’t Eni on the delegation?
- What did the governor and other ASG officials discuss with the delegation while they were here?
- Did anyone make reference to Hastings’ statement on the issue and ask for the delegation’s intervention with the White House on the conservation expansion zone question?
- Why was press barred from talking to the CODEL in American Samoa but not in the Northern Mariana Islands?
- What was the security threat that concerned the delegation?
- Who made the decision to bar the media?
- Was this really just an accommodation to Faleomavaega?
- Why haven’t any of the congressional candidates spoken up?
- Why hasn't anyone in the public spoken up?
Also contrast Faleomavaega’s weak statement on the conservation zone with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s (D-HI) courageous position on Iraq. When President Obama announced the zone expansion in June without consulting the delegate, Faleomavaega's office issued a statement quoting him as saying “I appreciate that the President will 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 . . . [h]owever, while I fully support [his] commitment to protecting our oceans, I am very concerned that the stakeholders, including Territorial Delegates . . . were not consulted in advance about the possible impact some of these initiatives may have . . .” How about if he had instead said: “I am deeply disappointed the President did not consult with me, the senior member of his party on the Subcommittee on Fish, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs. I will be requesting the chairman hold hearings on this initiative.”
Gabbard, on the other hand, on one of the recent Sunday national talk shows forthrightly said the U.S. counterterrorism mission is adrift and needs to be refocused to target and dismantle the Islamic State. She criticized President Obama’s response to the threat posed by the Islamic State, recalling how a White House official said last week that U.S. air strikes in Iraq “are not an authorization of a broad-based counter-terrorism campaign” against the extremists. “So if our mission is not to take out the Islamic extremists who continue to threaten and wage war against us, then I think we've got a real problem here," she said.
Brave stuff for someone who is a vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, which by its nature always backs the president down the line on policy issues and who also is on the House Armed Services Committee where, as a freshman legislator, she is expected to do the same. Perhaps while he was recuperating in that Honolulu hospital room last year, someone removed Faleomavaega’s cajones and passed them to Gabbard. Tough stuff for our macho, male-dominated Samoan society to swallow.
Faleomavaega's impotence has not been lost on the groups--even his own local Democratic Party--that oppose Obama’s conservation zone expansion: they are abandoning him in droves. All of them have filed their arguments directly with the White House, not through Faleomavaega’s office. We have no doubts that his enforcer, Lisa Williams, has had or will have strong words with AS Democratic Party Chairman Ali’imau JR Scanlan—and probably the others--about that violation of protocol. Apparently she comes unglued when she loses control.
If the question were asked of his office, they could always claim that the White House asked for the responses but protocol in American Samoa in the past always has been to submit them through the congressional office so a cover transmittal letter of support could be added. They cannot claim that it had to be done this way because he is of a different party than the president or that he has a different position than the petitioners or because of the short fuse for responses coming during a congressional recess since he is staying in Washington “because of the press of congressional business.”
We are only a couple of weeks away from the candidate filing deadline for Congress. Although he, himself, has made no formal announcement nor have we received any word on when he intends to return to the territory, we can assume the “press of congressional business” will keep him in Washington until adjournment. However, the way he has handled this conservation zone matter and the visit of the CODEL raises more questions about his fitness to continue, no matter how well he heals between now and election day.
To date, we have avoided calling for him to step down before the end of his term but since he still has not told anyone what ails him after almost 10 months, how will anyone know if he would be fit enough to serve another term. What happens if he suffers a relapse? Can we afford to be without a full time, fully functioning delegate? After all, on the eve of the 2012 election he publicly announced, as quoted atop this blog, all the surgeries he had had and conditions he had suffered in recent years and asked for everyone to vote for him again anyway, regardless of what his future health might be.
Then, nine months into his new term, he took ill again, this time with a condition he has declined to identify. Perhaps the time has come for him to reassess his situation and rather than file for reelection, announce his resignation and recommend the governor hold a special election concurrent with the general election to fill his vacancy, thus giving someone else a chance to start building seniority ahead of the enlarged Republican majority expected to be elected in November and take office in January.
To look after our affairs in Washington, can we afford two more years of a sick, old man in the minority who seemingly no one much listens to anyway?