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Bush blasts Native Hawaiian self-determination bill

Update, October 24: The House debated a rule that would open H.R.505 to debate. A vote was called around 12:38pm on the rule.

The rule passed. Debate to last one hour on H.R.505 began around 1:15pm.

After one hour of debate, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) offered a motion to recommit in order to make amendments that would purportedly address constitutional, civil rights and other legal concerns regarding a Native Hawaiian governing entity.

At 2:49pm, the motion to recommit failed by a recorded vote.

The House is now voting on the bill. It passed by a 261-153 vote around 3:04pm

The White House on Monday slammed a bill to extend self-determination to Native Hawaiians, calling it divisive and unconstitutional.

The Bush administration has long opposed efforts to organize a Native Hawaiian governing entity. But the statement from the Office of Management and Budget marked first time the White House put its objections into writing.

"The administration strongly opposes any bill that would formally divide sovereign United States power along suspect lines of race and ethnicity," the White House said.

The statement comes on the eve of consideration of H.R.505, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act. The House is set to debate the measure on Wednesday.

Most of Hawaii's politicians -- Republicans and Democrats -- support the bill. They say it would ensure the flow of federal funding to Native Hawaiian programs and protect Native-owned land, culture and heritage.

The House previously voted in favor of Native Hawaiians in late 2000, before President Bush took office. But due to objections from the administration, the current measure has been held up by conservative Republicans.

In June 2006, Republicans kept the Senate version of the bill from advancing to a final vote. And this past March, Republicans temporarily blocked a Native Hawaiian housing bill.

The opposition is based largely on constitutional concerns. Republicans say the bill would create a race-based government that is not open to people of all ethnic backgrounds.

Supporters counter that the federal government has long treated American Indians and Alaska Natives as political entities. They say Congress has the power to place Native Hawaiians in the same category.

Though a series of court cases have raised the issue, it has never been decided definitively. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 struck down an election in Hawaii that was limited to Native Hawaiians but the justices did not rule on the legality of a Native Hawaiian governing entity.

More recently, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a school admissions policy limited to Native Hawaiians. A settlement prevented the case from being heard by the Supreme Court.

Despite the apparent uncertainty, the Bush administration called the Native Hawaiian bill discriminatory. The statement from the White House also said Native Hawaiians do not fall in the same category as American Indians and Alaska Natives.

"Given the substantial historical and cultural differences between Native Hawaiians as a group and members of federally recognized Indian tribes, the administration believes that tribal recognition is inappropriate and unwise for Native Hawaiians and would raise serious constitutional concerns," the statement said.

Until the release of the statement, opposition was coming from the Department of Justice. Since Bush took office in 2001, officials there have been quietly questioning a slew of Native Hawaiian programs.

Earlier this year, the campaign was extended to urban Indians, lineal Indian descendants and certain Alaska Natives. A DOJ official told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that providing health care to these groups of people would be unconstitutional.

"Under the Supreme Court's decisions, there is a substantial likelihood that legislation providing special benefits to individuals of Indian or Alaska Native descent based on something other than membership or equivalent affiliation with a federally recognized tribe would be regarded by the courts as a racial classification," Frederick Beckner III, a deputy assistant general at DOJ, said at a March 8 hearing.

Tomorrow's debate is slated to start at 10am.

Statement of Administration Policy:
H.R. 505 – Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2007 (October 22, 2007)

Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act::
H.R.505 | S.310

Relevant Links:
Office of Hawaiian Affairs -
Native Hawaiian Recognition -