Biden Administration Policy for the Indian Country: Impact of the 117th Congress

The next time you walk through the gates of 1849 C Street, NW, the portrait above the security desk may well represent the Native American First Secretary of the Interior. As has been widely reported, Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-NM-01) and former Assistant Home Secretary Michael Connor are among several Native American candidates currently being selected for the post.

As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take the helm on January 20, his transition team is identifying landing teams, political candidates, political agendas and management plans for swift action. For the Indian country, the Biden Campaign Plan for Tribal Nations serves as a useful framework for early action, with public security and justice, infrastructure, access to capital, federal government procurement, clean energy. , climate change, environmental justice, trust and conservation. all figured prominently.

But beyond campaign promises, the Biden administration’s policy for the Indian country will be heavily influenced by the actions (or inaction) of the 117th Congress.

The 117th Congress will play a central role in examining and confirming the main political candidates for the new administration and enacting or rejecting legislative initiatives that will advance or undermine the administration’s plan for the tribal nations. This article therefore provides a preliminary overview of the 117th Congress and identifies some of the members who may influence legal and political developments in the Indian country over the next two years.

When the 117th Congress begins in early January, the US Senate will be split 48-50 in favor of the Republican Party. The ultimate balance of power in the Senate for the 117th Congress rests on two play-offs in Georgia scheduled for January 5.

If Republicans win just one of the two elections in Georgia, they will retain control of the Senate. Intensive campaigns, high profile advocates and record campaign spend will influence these key contests.

The results of the elections in Georgia will have immediate consequences for the Biden administration. The Biden team will need to fill thousands of presidential appointments in the first months of the new administration, at least 1,200 of which will require Senate confirmation. Due to the changes made in 2013 to the Rules of the Senate, the appointments of the President are not subject to systematic obstruction. Still, a majority of senators must confirm each nomination, and a Republican-led Senate and Republican-led judicial committee could have significant influence on the makeup of the administration’s political leadership team.

Georgia’s run-off will also determine who heads Senate committees with jurisdiction over matters of importance to the Indian country. In particular, if Republicans retain a majority, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is expected to assume the chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) would likely become vice president.

The Indian Affairs Committee is generally known for its bipartisan approach to legislation, and one would expect Senators Murkowski and Schatz to carry on this tradition. Senators have a common interest in addressing a wide range of unique legal and policy challenges that affect Indigenous communities in the non-contiguous states they represent. (Former Hawaii Senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Daniel Akaka (D-HI) have both served as committee chairs, with Senator Inouye serving as chair for a combined total of five conventions. The committee has never been chaired by a.)

During the 116th Congress, Senators Murkowski and Schatz showed interest in working together to advance bipartisan solutions for the Indian country, for example, by presenting – with Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Dan Sullivan (R -AK) – of the INVEST law, which would create a reserve within the tax credit program for new markets for Amerindian communities. Senators Murkowski and Schatz both sit on the Senate Appropriation Committee, and Senator Murkowski currently chairs the Senate Appropriation Subcommittee on Home, Environment and Related Agencies, with jurisdiction over expenditures of the Office of Indian Affairs. , the Indian Health Service and other key agencies. .

In the United States House of Representatives, although Democrats retain a slim majority in the 117th Congress, Republicans have managed to move several seats from blue to red. Democrats could hold just 222 seats when the new Congress meets, a number that could decline further (if only temporarily) if members leave to join the Biden administration. With 218 votes needed to pass a bill in the House, legislative initiatives (including spending bills) that cannot achieve consensus in the House Democratic caucus will require some level of bipartisanship to go. forward.

Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-03) will continue to chair the House Committee on Natural Resources, with jurisdiction over a wide range of laws for the Indian country. We expect Congressman Ruben Gallego (D-AZ-07) to continue to chair the United States Indigenous Peoples Committee subcommittee.

A record number of Native American representatives – three Republicans and three Democrats – will sit on the 117th Congress. Chickasaw Nation Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK-04) will begin his 10th term. Congressman Cole sits on several key committees, including the House Supply, Budget, and Ways and Means committees. Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R-OK-02), a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, will begin his 5th term in the House. He sits on the House committees on Natural Resources (including the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States) and Transportation and Infrastructure.

Joining the two Oklahoma Republicans, Yvette Herrell defeated incumbent Xochitl Torres Small and will be the MP for New Mexico’s Second District. Herrell, a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, was previously elected to New Mexico State House in 2010, where she focused largely on public safety and small business support, drawing on his previous experience as an entrepreneur and real estate agent.

Women of Congress Sharice Davids (D-KS-03) and Deb Haaland, who made history two years ago as the first Native American women to be elected to Congress, are both returning for a second term.

Congresswoman Davids, a registered member of the HoChunk Nation of Wisconsin, sits on the House Committee on Small Business, where she has been a strong advocate for Indigenous small businesses, as well as the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee .

Congresswoman Haaland, a registered member of the Pueblo de Laguna, sits on House committees on Armed Services, Natural Resources (including the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States), and Oversight and Reform. Congressman Haaland and Congressman Cole are currently co-chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus.

Congresswoman Haaland is one of a handful of candidates who would be considered by Biden’s transition team for a possible nomination as Home Secretary. His appointment received support from various sources, including President Grijalva, whose name had also been released for the post. Congressman Grijalva signaled some time ago that he was no longer interested in the role and urged other committee members to support Congressman Haaland, saying: “It is high time that a Native American comes full circle at the Ministry of the Interior.

A native of Hawaii, Democrat Kaiali’i Kahele will become the second native of Hawaii to represent his state in Congress. A combat veteran and commercial airline pilot, Mr. Kahele entered Hawaii state politics in 2016, when he was appointed to the State Senate by Governor David Ige to replace his father, Gil Kahele, who died that year. He was twice re-elected to the state legislature and most recently served as the majority leader, largely focusing his legislative efforts on the economic development of Hilo and eastern Hawaii.

Broadly speaking, we expect issues of importance to the Indian country at the 117th Congress to include: public safety and justice (in part, thanks to the re-authorization of the Violence Against Act). women and the enactment of new language defining special tribal criminal jurisdiction); infrastructure (including tribal transport reform, broadband financing, and equitable access to water infrastructure finance, an ongoing issue highlighted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic); and indigenous contracting and procurement. All of these issues received some attention during the 116th Congress, but relatively little was accomplished. All of these issues overlap largely with many of the priorities listed by the Biden team in their plan for the tribal nations.

In addition, several pending tribal tax reform initiatives are likely to remain at the forefront, particularly if a subset of these legislative priorities do not move forward on a tax extension bill in recent years. days of the 116th Congress.

The National Congress of American Indians and the Native American Finance Officers Association are among the organizations pushing for legislation to address multiple tribal tax priorities, including efforts to: increase the deployment of tax credits on new markets in Indian countries; increase the roll-out of low-income housing tax credits in Indian countries; increase the Indian employment tax credit; clarify the public charity status of organizations that support Indian tribes; allow Indian tribes to use tax-exempt debt; clarify whether certain benefit plans administered by Indian tribes are subject to federal minimum standards for private benefit plans; and extend certain powers to Indian tribes that would allow parents to ensure that adoptive parents of Aboriginal children are eligible for the adoption tax credit.

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