Hovland now bears the unique distinction of being the only one of President Trump's Indian policy nominees to win confirmation in the Senate. Her potential colleagues have faced much rockier roads. The nomination of Robert Weaver to serve as the director of the Indian Health Service was the first out of the gate last October. But he never got a confirmation hearing amid questions about his qualifications to lead an agency that's responsible for delivering health care to more than 2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives. Those doubts eventually derailed his chances. The White House abandoned him in February without so much as an explanation. “Regardless of what the press reports may say, I was forced out,” Weaver told tribal leaders at the time. “I was involuntarily withdrawn.” President Trump has yet to nominate someone else as IHS director, a post that has been vacant for more than three years. Weaver, meanwhile, has set his sights on a different job. He's seeking to lead the Quapaw Tribe and is running against longtime Chairman John Berrey, who had supported him for the IHS post. The election is set for July 28.
Indian Country doesn't have a stronger advocate than Jeannie Hovland, a former long-time member of my staff. Glad to see the #Senate unanimously approved her nomination to be the next commissioner of the administration for Native Americans at @HHSGov.— Senator John Thune (@SenJohnThune) June 21, 2018
Trump's nominee to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs hasn't had it easy either. Tara Sweeney, who is Inupiat from Alaska, finally landed a confirmation hearing in May, following months of delays linked to her background as an executive for an Alaska Native corporation. Tribal leaders have called on the Senate to move quickly on Sweeney after the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved her nomination on June 6. But key Democrats aren't ready to support her without stronger -- and written -- assurances about her pledge to recuse herself from matters affecting Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, her employer and the firm in which she holds shares. Arctic Slope stands to benefit financially from the Trump administration's push to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to energy development. Though Sweeney has said she won't seek a "waiver" in the future from her recusal, Democrats believe her answers on the issue hasn't been clear enough. That means Sweeney may not get a quick and easy voice vote like Hovland, and she might not even be able to proceed with unanimous consent either. Of the 12 Assistant Secretary nominees since 1977, all but one was approved by either a voice vote or unanimous consent. "I think that highlights the bipartisan nature that the Senate has routinely enjoyed when it comes to supporting these leadership positions for Indian Country," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is one of Sweeney's biggest champions. Hovland, in contrast, was placed on the Senate's "privileged nomination section" right after she was announced in February, according to chamber records. That means she was able to take advantage of "expedited" consideration. And unlike Sweeney, who has said she hasn't been in the loop in Washington, Hovland has already made inroads in the executive branch. She recently left Thune's office and has been serving as a "senior advisor" to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, that unfilled political post at the Department of the Interior. According to calendars posted by the department, she has been participating in key meetings with other political officials as far back as February, when she was nominated to the HHS post. Though Hovland is the Trump administration's only Senate confirmed Indian policy nominee at this point, she is not the only tribal citizen on the presidential team. R. Trent Shores, who hails the Choctaw Nation, was confirmed as the U.S. Attorney for Northern Oklahoma last September. Tribal citizens have been tapped for other political jobs in Washington, though their numbers are far and few in between when compared to prior presidential administrations, Republican and Democrat alike. Kiowa citizen John Tahsuda, for example, has been serving as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs since last September. The position did not require Senate confirmation.
Top Indian positions in Trump administration remain without leaders (February 20, 2018)