6 New Year Nomination Battles for Obama’s Native-Focused Nominees
The White House announced early in January that President Barack Obama has resubmitted to the U.S. Senate several nominees that are of special interest to Indian country. The president has previously submitted all of the below nominees, but because they were not confirmed by the end of 2013, he had to re-submit them for consideration in 2014.
New rules instituted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) last November require only a simple majority of the Senate to confirm the president’s nominees, so many of these appointments should sail through quickly in the new year. But some of these nominees have received scrutiny from Senate Republicans – and in one case at least, from Democrats – so all are not a sure thing.
Brad Carson – This Oklahoma politician and Indian law expert has been re-nominated to become Army undersecretary after being confirmed as general counsel for the Army in December 2011 and having served successfully in that position since that time. A Cherokee Nation citizen, Carson previously worked as chief executive officer for his tribe’s business division and served on its board. He was awarded the Bronze Star after his service in the Navy and Army during the recent Iraq war. His dad worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Widely considered non-controversial, tribal affairs watchers expect his nomination to pass the Senate by unanimous consent sometime early in the new year.
Michael Connor – Nominated to become the deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior last July, Connor has received strong tribal support to replace David Hayes, who retired from the position in 2013 after tribal officials raised concerns about his role in some Indian-focused dealings, especially involving the ongoing Carcieri land-into-trust legislative fix battle. Throughout his federal career, Connor has been focused on energy issues, which tribes hope will mean he will focus on support for tribal energy development if confirmed. He’s also been strong in the past on supporting tribal water rights issues. He’s not an enrolled tribal citizen, but he does have roots with the Taos Pueblo; his maternal grandmother was an original member of Taos Pueblo’s water rights task force. His initial nomination passed affirmatively out of the Energy Committee in October, and the committee has scheduled a new mark-up hearing for him for January 16.
Keith Harper – The Kilpatrick Stockton lawyer who served as co-counsel during the $3.4 Cobell settlement with the Obama administration made it far along in the confirmation process to become a State Department United Nations ambassador focused on human rights in 2013, having been voted affirmatively out of the Foreign Relations Committee late in the year. Senate Republicans, however, raised several objections that forced Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to delay consideration of the Cherokee Nation citizen’s nomination. Some Indian affairs sources speculated that Obama might choose to nominate a safer candidate in the new year, but the president and White House have apparently dug in their heels in favor of Harper, who has served on the president’s transition team, worked in his administration, and was a major campaign finance bundler for the Obama campaigns for president. Indian-focused lobbyists and lawyers in D.C. – many with ties to Harper – have been widely pushing for his confirmation and have encouraged tribes to offer support for him.
Diane Humetewa – This Hopi citizen was nominated by the president last September to serve on the federal bench for the U.S. District Court for Arizona. She’s received strong backing from Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) from her home state, as she previously did when she served as a U.S. attorney during the George W. Bush administration in Arizona, and given this support, she’s expected to be confirmed once considered by the Senate. Indian country has long been pushing for Indian-focused nominees to the federal bench. If Humetewa is confirmed, she would be the only American Indian to serve on the federal bench and only the third Native on the federal bench in history. New information has recently been reported indicating that when she was being considered to become a U.S. attorney during the Bush administration, one of President George W. Bush’s top advisors, Karl Rove, came out against her, reportedly writing in an e-mail, “Replace Blanquita.” The publication Main Justice says this slight was “an apparent racial epithet for the Latina-looking Humetewa.”
Vince Logan – This Osage citizen was nominated in September 2012 to become special trustee in the Office of Special Trustee for American Indians at the Department of the Interior. He finally received a hearing before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in December 2013, and his nomination was voted on affirmatively soon after. But the full Senate did not confirm him before the end of the year, so now a new hearing will need to occur. At the same time, many Indian country and federal officials are questioning whether an Office of the Special Trustee is really necessary, and legislation has recently been introduced that would get rid of it. Will the office still be there by the time Logan is confirmed?
Yvette Roubideaux – She served as Director of the Indian Health Service during the first four years of the Obama administration, but has now been reduced to acting capacity because her re-nomination to the position has been held up by Democrats in the Senate who have heard widespread concerns about Roubideaux’ leadership from tribal leaders. Questions about transparency, management style, and her decisions involving sequestration, budgets, contract support costs and other Native health programs have been major causes of concern for tribal leaders, who have widely noted their ire to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Committee members have requested and received clarification from Roubideaux on some of these areas, but the information she provided was not enough to move her nomination forward in 2013. White House officials and her boss, Department of Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius, have made clear to Indian officials that they are standing by the Rosebud Sioux citizen in 2014. Tribal leaders are widely pushing for a new nominee.
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