by Aumua Amata
While American Samoa was engaged in inaugurating our new governor and lieutenant governor on January 3, some 7,000 miles away in Washington, D.C., the 113th Congress was being sworn into office on the same day. Since I was in Washington to spend the holidays and await the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee, which I will be attending for the first time as RNC’s most senior member, I happily was in a position to accept several invitations by Members to attend their swearing-in parties, receptions and open houses.
First on my list was Tulsi Gabbard's reception held in the ornate Veterans Affairs Committee Room. With Tulsi’s victory, making her the first Samoan in history to be elected to Congress as a full voting member, Hawaii now has three women in its four member delegation to Washington, second only to New Hampshire, which has an all-female delegation and a female governor as well.
It's not often that a freshman has access to such a big fancy committee room so this was special, but then again, so is Tulsi. CNN must have thought so too, because they had a camera set up right in the reception to interview her. As I walked in, I was greeted by Rep. Mike Honda of California, the chairman emeritus of the Congressional Asia Pacific Caucus, and then saw a large contingent of the Gabbard family—here to celebrate Tulsi’s milestone: her parents Carol and Hawaii State Sen. Mike Gabbard, along with Mike's brother Sgt. Bill Gabbard, the enlisted Conductor of The U.S. Army Soldiers' Chorus and their sister Sinavaiana, an assistant professor of Pacific Literature at the University of Hawaii.
I was also delighted to meet Tulsi's sister Davan, who is a Deputy U.S. Marshal in New York City and other assorted Gabbard family aunts, uncles and cousins. Well-known entertainer Danny Kaleikini traveled all the way from from Hawaii for the celebration and I also was pleased to meet Ropati Tamasese from Samoa, a sharp young businessman who currently resides in Baltimore.
My next stop was at the office of Guam’s much-beloved Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo who invited Guam supporters for lunch prepared by the Guam Society of America. Madeleine is beginning her sixth term in the House and is the ranking Democrat on an important Armed Services Subcommittee. The menu included some of my favorite Guamanian dishes from my days at the University of Guam: chicken kelaguen, Chamorro red rice, finadene, Chamorro style shrimp and pork, along with an array of salads and desserts.
While we were at Congresswoman Bordallo’s office we watched on TV opening day floor proceedings, including an attempt by the District of Columbia delegate to add to the House Rules a provision of delegate floor voting, but the motion was defeated by the Majority. I favor this change and am convinced Republicans would be amenable to it if there were at least one Republican delegate from the territories who could explain it in the Party conference.
Next stop was the Northern Marianas because I was honored also to have been invited to the reception hosted by CNMI Congressman Gregorio Kilili Sablan and his wife Andrea. Kilili, who is beginning his third term, has focused his efforts on CNMI problems and has accomplished more legislatively in the past four years than many of his more senior colleagues who have wider ranging interests beyond their own constituencies. Kilili’s policy always has been that his district comes first.
Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC), an old friend from my days on the House Leadership Staff invited me to his office where he presented me with an American Flag lapel pin made of red, white and blue stones. Congressman Wilson, who chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, has Fort Jackson in his district and has met many soldiers from American Samoa and other Pacific Islands stationed there. I thanked him for his offer to help any time our people have military issues and I promised we would hold a gathering with him one day soon at Fort Jackson.
My final stop was at the office of freshman Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO) who now represents the second District of Missouri. Ann and I are long standing friends from the days she served on the RNC from Missouri and later as the RNC co-chairman before President Bush appointed her ambassador to Luxembourg. She was an energetic, charismatic, forward thinking go getter on the RNC and she will not disappoint her constituents back home. No surprise to me, she was elected freshman class representative to the House Republican Leadership.
While the day began with parties--interrupted by the formal mass swearing in of Members, election of officers, adoption of Rules and other procedural business, some of which date back to the founded of the Republic--it ended with more parties and the traditional photo reenactment of the swearing in with the Speaker that is offered to all Members regardless of party affiliation.
These photo sessions move very fast because, as you can imagine, if every one of the 441 House members (including the six delegates) took as little as one minute, it would consume seven-and-a-half hours of the Speaker’s time. For many of the House members, particularly those in the minority, this may be their only opportunity to chat briefly with the Speaker during their entire term.
The new Congress will begin in earnest next week.
(Previously published in the Samoa News.)