Guam – The 112th Congress convened today. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan was among the 441 Members of the House of Representatives—representing the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the 5 insular areas of the United States—sworn in at 2:16 p.m. Wednesday EST.
[Caption: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), Ms. Andrea Sablan, and Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan pose during the swearing in ceremonies for the 112th Congress in Washington on Wednesday.]
It was the beginning of the second term of office for Sablan, and the second Congress in which the people of the Northern Marianas have representation.
“Once again the people of the Northern Mariana Islands take their place alongside the rest of Americans in governing our Nation,” Sablan said.
“And we will continue to use our presence in Congress to help the development of our islands and to help guide our country toward prosperity and justice for all.”
But even though the Northern Marianas and the other non-state areas of the U.S. have representatives in the House of Representatives, the new Republican majority immediately changed House rules, taking away the privilege those representatives now have to vote in the Committee of the Whole, where many bills are debated and amended.
The Committee of the Whole vote is not binding. Any vote there can be reconsidered by the House of Representatives.
This is not the first time Republicans have stripped the Delegates and Resident Commissioner of the vote. In 1995 the incoming Republican majority also rewrote House rules to bar non-state representatives from voting.
But in 2007 the incoming Democratic majority restored the rule allowing the Committee of the Whole vote.
“The Committee of the Whole is composed of all the Members of the House – including the Delegates and Resident Commissioner,” explained Kilili. “Legislation can be amended in the Committee of the Whole. Once approved it is sent to the House of Representatives proper for final passage.
“So, I was able, for instance, to vote on the Recovery Act and other important legislation in the Committee of the Whole during the last two years.
“But under the new Republican rules that will no longer be allowed.”
The Delegates mounted a surprise challenge to the Republican rule early in the proceedings. District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) made a motion to refer the rules to a committee of five members, appointed by the Speaker, to determine whether the non-state representatives vote in the Committee of the Whole was constitutional.
In its very first recorded vote on a legislative matter the House rejected Norton’s motion with all Republicans opposing the proposal.
“It is difficult to understand what grounds the Republicans have for taking away the vote from the people of the Northern Mariana Islands and other non-state areas,” Sablan said. “You can’t say they don’t pay taxes, because people in the District of Columbia pay federal income taxes and here in the NMI we pay Social Security tax andMedicare.
“You can’t say it’s because of small populations. The Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico represents 4 million U.S. citizens – more than any other Member of the House of Representatives.
“And a Federal Appeals courts ruled in 1994 that the vote in Committee of the Whole was not in violation of the Constitution.
“We tried to get the in-coming majority leadership to meet with us to discuss the issue since November, but they did not,” Sablan added.
The new Minority Whip,Steny Hoyer (D-MD), also made a strong statement, calling the Delegate vote”this symbol of respect, this symbol of inclusion, this symbol of colleague-ship.” He promised to introduce legislation to restore the delegates’ ability to participate in Committee of the Whole proceedings.