A bat with the name of Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States, is seen at a "Made in America" showcase at the White House on July 17, 2017. Photo: Evan Walker / White House

Lawmakers debate another Indian bill though none have gone to President Trump yet

President Donald Trump this week bragged about signing more bills than any of his predecessors, a claim that was quickly shown to be lacking in facts.

But when it comes to Indian Country, Trump can easily blame the 115th Congress for failing to boost his record. Although the House and the Senate have each passed a number of stand-alone tribal bills, none have cleared both chambers, so none have been sent to the new president for his signature.

"We’ve signed more bills -- and I’m talking about through the legislature -- than any president ever," Trump said on Monday during a "Made in America" event at the White House that featured products from all 50 states but none from Indian Country.

"I better say 'think,' otherwise they’ll give me a Pinocchio," Trump quickly added, an apparent reference to The Washington Post's Fact Checker.

"I don’t like those -- I don’t like Pinocchios," Trump said. The Post in fact declined to assign any Pinocchios to the president's statement.

The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Photo: Kristine Sowl / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Still, lawmakers are actively trying to send Indian bills to Trump. On Thursday, the House will debate another one -- H.R.218, the King Cove Road Land Exchange Act.

The measure does something that in theory seems simple. It authorizes a road that will make it easier for residents of of King Cove, an Aleut village, to get to the nearest all-weather airport.

King Cove, population 938, has an airstrip but poor weather keeps flights grounded for a good portion of the year. That means residents, who have been pushing for the road for years, must travel by boat to an airport in Cold Bay.

But even that journey can be treacherous due to conditions on the water. And once people arrive at Cold Bay, they have to climb up an unsteady ladder to reach the dock, a tough move for elders and those in need of medical attention.

"We've lost 17 lives because of the delay in building this road," Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the sponsor of the bill, said on Tuesday as the House Committee on Rules approved H.R.218 for debate.

Waiting for the ferry in King Cove, Alaska. Photo: J. Stephen Conn

The 11-mile road, however, is extremely controversial because it would cut through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, a federal property. The Obama administration rejected the road on the eve of the Christmas holiday in 2013, citing concerns that had been raised by environmental and conservation groups.

Democrats oppose the road for similar reasons. Although they lack the votes in the House to derail H.R.218, they are bringing up two amendments during debate on Thursday in hopes of addressing environmental and funding issues.

"There's no secret that people on our side have problems with all of these bills, but we'll leave it at that," Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), a senior Democrat on the Rules Committee, said on Tuesday.

According to the rule adopted on Tuesday, H.R.218 will be subject to one hour of debate. That's a departure from the House's treatment of most other Indian bills, which are typically passed under a suspension of the rules and without a recorded vote due to their non-controversial nature.

The Senate version of the bill is S.101. Although it has not advanced as far in the process as H.R.218, it is already on Trump's radar -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) brought up the road when she met with the president in March, according to a press release from her office.

"It is the most vital element of missing infrastructure in King Cove to our well-being and will change our cost of living so that our residents can have a real, safe life and not always have to worry every time we risk our lives to travel for medical and health safety reasons – an activity that Lower 48 Americans take for granted every day of their lives," Della Trumble, the business manager for the King Cove Village Corporation, said at a hearing on infrastructure later that month.

Since the start of the 115th Congress in January, the House has passed three stand-alone Indian bills, all on July 11.
H.R.597, the Lytton Rancheria Homelands Act. The bill places about 940 acres in trust for the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, in California.
H.R.1306, the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act. Provisions in the bill place about 17,519 acres in trust for the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians and about 14,472 acres in trust for the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians while others address land management issues for the Coquille Tribe.
H.R.1404, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Land Conveyance Act. The measure places about 40 acres in Arizona in trust for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe.

None of the bills have been passed in the Senate, which so far has passed two stand-alone Indian bills, both on May 8:
S.140, a bill which ensures that the White Mountain Apache Tribe to move forward with a critical drinking water project in Arizona.
S.249, a bill which clarifies that Santa Clara Pueblo and Ohkay Owingeh can lease their lands in New Mexico for up 99 years for economic development and other purposes.

Neither of these bills have cleared the House.

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