Objections delay Bush's trust fund pick
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SPECIAL TRUSTEE?: Bush nominee Ross Swimmer after his recent confirmation hearing. February 12, 2003. File Photo © NSM.
A Senate panel on Wednesday failed to advance the nomination of Ross Swimmer as Special Trustee at the Department of Interior, the first time in recent history that an Indian affairs position has been delayed.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) planned to report the the nomination out of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. But he was forced to hold it back due to objections by Democrat members, including Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.).

"I have been asked by other member to register objections in person," Conrad said without offering specifics.

All Republicans voted by proxy to approve Swimmer, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona who only a day earlier said concerns about Swimmer had gone unresolved. Paul Moorehead, an aide to the Republican side of the committee, acknowledged that some questions remain outstanding.

On the Democrat side, Conrad, Harry Reid of Nevada and Tim Johnson of South Dakota, voted no, the latter two by proxy. Campbell said Reid called him personally to object. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, the committee chairman, voted yes.

Byron Dorgan of North Dakota was not present and didn't register a proxy vote. Republican Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, was not present and did not vote by proxy either.

The Senate committee, which oversees the assistant secretary for Indian affairs position, the special trustee, the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, the director of the Indian Health Service and the commissioner for the Administration for Native Americans, has typically advanced a nominee by unanimous vote.

The only time controversy threatened a nominee was during the Clinton administration when anti-gaming critics questioned former assistant secretary Kevin Gover. But he was quickly advanced and easily won unanimous Senate confirmation.

Swimmer, who ran the Bureau of Indian Affairs during the last three years of the Reagan administration and currently works at the Interior in an expanded trust oversight capacity, has generated dissent within Indian Country. Several tribes, mostly in his home state of Oklahoma, supported his nomination.

A number of tribes with significant trust assets, including the the Navajo Nation and the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, which have the two largest land bases in the country, opposed Swimmer. Cited were his Reagan-era attempts to reduce federal trust oversight and his involvement in the Navajo Nation's $600 million breach of trust claim.

Attempts to reach the offices of senators for further comment were unsuccessful yesterday. The Associated Press reported a heavy volume of calls related to the war on Iraq, which overloaded the phone system. Busy circuit messages were received throughout the day.

Relevant Documents:
Written Witness Testimony (2/12)

Relevant Links:
Office of Special Trustee -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

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Senate panel eager to confirm Swimmer as trustee (02/13)
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Swimmer spoof rings true for some (2/12)
Swimmer slow to recall Reagan era 'fallout' (01/17)
Swimmer was promised BITAM job (1/16)
Tribes moving to oppose Swimmer nomination (01/06)
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