“CONGRESSWOMAN CORRECTS THE RECORD”
Regrettably, your January 16 edition carried a very misleading headline on a story about the Committee of the Whole of the U.S. House of Representatives. The House did not specifically defeat the proposal to give territorial Members of Congress a vote in the Committee of the Whole. Rather, a more accurate headline would be "House Adopts Republican Rules package.” The vote on final passage of the rules was preordained because the Majority makes the rules and we made those rules in our own caucus (called the Conference), in which I have a full vote. While we were finalizing our package, the Democrats were doing the same in their caucus. The subsequent debate on the Floor was symbolic.
Unfortunately, a controversy over the structure of the Ethics Committee dominated national news coverage, so my amendment that passed in our Conference went largely unnoticed by the media. Delegates now can chair the Committee of the Whole; that was a major achievement. Even though we don't vote in the Committee of the Whole, we already participate in debate, manage bills and offer amendments. Moreover, in this Congress I continue to serve on the Veterans Affairs, Natural Resources and Small Business Committees and have a full vote on each.
So, I do not believe a vote in the Committee of the Whole is important, since it would require another rule negating the vote if it made a difference in passage, just as Democrats did when they held the majority in 1993-05 and again from 2007-11. When asked about her position on the Committee of the Whole vote, my friend and new Republican colleague from Puerto Rico, Jenniffer Gonzalez, commented: "Why should I be concerned about a vote that doesn't count. It's meaningless." I agree with her. Frankly, I think having a vote that doesn’t count is demeaning.
Some proponents have argued that the territorial Members of Congress should have a voting record that their constituents can review, but nothing prevents Members from telling constituents how they would have voted on any given measure, so I find that argument to be without merit. I could have broadened my amendment to include voting as well as chairing the committee, but I did not think it necessary to spend valuable political capital when we have a much larger agenda that we want to accomplish in the next two years for the people of American Samoa.
When an Associated Press reporter expressed surprise that 247 Members, including me, would be participating in the Speaker vote, not 246, I wrote a reminder that AP should be aware that the territorial Members of Congress not only have a vote for Speaker but we accrue seniority just the same as Members from the states, can chair subcommittees and even full committees, can participate in floor debate, offer amendments and manage bills. Moreover, we have the same budget allocation for office expenses, in fact a little more because the travel allocation is based on the distance from Washington to the district and we have the same staff allowance. In fact, I can even run for Speaker if I so choose.
So we didn’t lose a thing.
(Editor’s Note: The story, the congresswoman is referencing ran on January 17, in the Samoa News, and was credited to Radio New Zealand. It did run online on that date.
Of note, in the story, the representative from Guam, Madeleine Bordallo is reported to have told the Republican House Rules Committee before the decision that restoring territorial voting rights would be purely a “symbolic gesture”.
After the committee’s decision, Bordallo said she was deeply disappointed the Republican majority continues to disenfranchise millions of Americans who live in the territories by denying their Congressional representatives even “symbolic” voting rights on the House floor.
The two Republican delegates from the Territories appear to disagree with Bordallo’s stance. ra)