Harper Nomination Again Clears Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Rob Capriccioso

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted along party lines again February 4 to approve lawyer Keith Harper’s nomination to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The vote was 10 – 8.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), one of his supporters, has previously noted the historic nature of this nomination because Harper, a Cherokee Nation citizen, would be the first tribal citizen of a federally recognized tribe to be a U.S. ambassador if confirmed by the full Senate. J. Chris Stevens, the former ambassador to Libya who was killed in the Benghazi attack at the U.S. consulate in September 2012, was a citizen of the Chinook Tribe, which is not federally recognized.

RELATED: Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens’ Mother Spells Out Family Legacy

Last year, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) took the lead in questioning Harper’s human rights record involving Indian country. Harper was co-counsel during the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement with the Obama administration, and McCain questioned several of Harper’s leadership decisions involving that case and other tribal trust settlements.

RELATED: McCain Opposes Harper Nomination to UN Council, Citing Indian Concerns

McCain has said he has never received satisfactory answers from Harper that would allow him to vote affirmatively for the Kilpatrick Stockton lawyer, although Harper did submit answers to the committee in an effort to clear up some of the questions.

A Senate aide noted that McCain again spoke out against Harper’s nomination before the latest vote.

RELATED: Senators Have Doubts After Harper Answers Queries on Cobell Dealings

Indian support for Harper has been mixed, with individual tribal citizens who were negatively affected by issues stemming from the Cobell litigation providing letters to the committee asking for Harper to be denied, while several tribal leaders who have had positive interactions with Harper and his firm offered letters of support.

The Obama administration has strongly supported Harper, who was a major campaign finance bundler for the Obama campaigns for the president. He also served on the president’s transition team and worked in his administration as a member of the Commission on White House Fellowships.


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