It's taking longer than expected but Republican President Donald Trump is slowly but surely getting the leadership team he wants.
Amid objections from Democrats, Republicans in the Senate confirmed two of Trump's anti-Indian figures to the Cabinet last week. The most significant was former Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), who has refused to say whether he will defend the right of tribes to punish non-Indians who abuse their domestic partners.
"I have serious concerns about Senator Sessions’ opposition to landmark legislation in 2013 that protects victims of domestic violence, including protections I advocated for Native American women," said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), who voted against the nomination.
But with Republicans in control of the chamber, they were easily able to confirm Sessions as the 48th Attorney General of the United States. The roll call was 52 to 47, with just one Democrat supporting the nomination.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, at head of table, meets with top officials at the Department of Justice on February 9, 2017. Seated to his right is Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, who will be staying on in his role during the Donald Trump administration. Photo: Justice Department
Price is a fierce critic of the Affordable Care Act and, like most Republicans, supports efforts to repeal it. Doing so would also undo the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which tribes fought for more than a decade to update.
And like most Republicans, including Trump, Price has not advanced a replacement for IHCIA or explained how numerous programs at the Indian Health Service would be protected. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), who is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, has vowed to protect the landmark provisions of the law but specifics remain in limbo.
"We've heard that [but] we haven't seen it in writing," National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby said the first State of Indian Nations address of the Trump era in Washington, D.C., on Monday morning.
"We haven't heard it from the highest elected officials," Cladoosby said of the pledge to safeguard the IHCIA and the IHS.
During the Obama administration, the IHS saw historic growth in its funding levels although the amounts aren't nearly enough to address Indian Country's full needs. Price and Trump are expected to release their first budget in the coming weeks, which will give tribes an idea of the new team's approach.
The final decisions on appropriations, though, are made by Congress and Cladoosby said tribes will look to allies on both sides of the aisle to make their case.
"This isn't the first time that tribes have experienced a transition of power .. from on party to the next," Cladoosby said. "We've always looked at our issues as non-partisan."
Secretary Price, who is a physician, was confirmed by a vote of 53 to 46 on Friday. Only one Democrat supported him.