Washington in brief

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POMBO RETURNS TO THE HELM OF HOUSE RESOURCES

Republican leadership in the House of Representatives has returned Richard
Pombo to the chairmanship of the Committee on Resources, the committee of
jurisdiction for many Indian-specific proposals.

The California Republican went to bat repeatedly for tribal interests in
the 108th Congress. Though Pombo's position was not known to be in
jeopardy, the House GOP has weeded its ranks of committee chairmen deemed
insufficiently cooperative with party leadership. In the current 109th
Congress, he said in a release announcing his reappointment, the committee
priorities will be increasing the U.S. domestic energy supply and improving
the Endangered Species Act.

He made it plain the energy goal will involve opening the Alaska National
Wildlife Refuge to oil extraction, a priority of Pres. George W. Bush and
the Republican Party, newly empowered in last November's elections.

"The discussions on updating the ESA and producing energy in ANWR have been
so mired in inane hyperbole that facts and true analysis have completely
escaped the debate," he said in the release.

"The House has passed comprehensive energy plans four times in the last
four years, only to have its efforts strangled by obstructionists in the
United States Senate ... Abundant and affordable supplies of energy are the
lifeblood of our economy, which is why it is critical for the United States
to stop outsourcing this need and start producing more here at home. Our
economy, our job base, and our consumers will be the beneficiaries when we
do just that."

The Endangered Species Act has posted a success rate for species recovery
of less than 1 percent over 30 years, he added.

GOP FIRMS UP HOUSE RULES TO HAMPER DEMOCRATS

In moves designed to improve the chances of Republican legislation, the
majority party has altered important rules in the House of Representatives
and ousted committee chairmen who didn't toe the party line in the last
Congress.

Beginning in the current 109th Congress, lawmakers will find it more
difficult to file ethics charges against other members, a process
Republicans insist has been politicized following three filings in the last
Congress against party strongman Tom Delay, R-Texas. Delay is a close
confederate of Pres. Bush and a favorite of the party faithful. But
according to The Washington Post, Republicans fear Democrats will divert
attention from policy by whipping up on Delay; and so they've rescinded a
rule change that would have maintained Delay as Speaker of the House even
in the event he's indicted by a grand jury.

The Post noted that new rules will limit Democratic maneuvering room. "For
instance, Republicans have made it harder for Democrats to offer amendments
to pending bills or participate in conference committees, where House and
Senate versions of bills are reconciled."

Though it has not always proved out, historically tribes have been able to
benefit from amendments and the conferencing process.

MCCAIN LOWERS BOOM ON AKAKA BILL

Hope dies hard, but Sen. John McCain certainly stole a march on canceling
any for the Akaka Bill in the current 109th Congress.

In remarks carried by Associated Press and circulated by the Council for
Native Hawaiian Advancement, among others, the Arizona Republican made it
his first point of public business as the new Senate Committee on Indian
Affairs chairman to oppose the bill, which would extend federal recognition
to Native Hawaiians as a political group with governing structures of their
own. Though the bill lacks universal backing from Native Hawaiians, many
consider political recognition essential because racial preferences for
Native Hawaiians are under concerted attack in the courts. A U.S. Supreme
Court decision on voting rights in the state went against Native
preferences, encouraging a series of other challenges.

The Akaka Bill, named after its leading sponsor, Sen. Daniel Akaka,
D-Hawaii, has the strong backing of the entire Hawaii congressional
delegation and of Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, a popular Republican in a
longstanding Democratic political stronghold. Republican Vice President
Richard Cheney even made unprecedented campaign stops there for Pres. Bush
in the waning days of last November's elections, leading to some thought at
least that the GOP might support Lingle in any way possible leading up to
the 2006 mid-term elections, when a second-term president's party
historically loses seats in Congress. The Bush administration is bending
every effort toward bucking that trend, in order to consolidate the party's
impressive gains in November.

In addition, Republican leadership in last year's Senate guaranteed a full
Senate hearing on the bill before this coming August, according to the
Hawaii congressional delegation.

But McCain may have something to say about it. Akaka must reintroduce the
bill, which lost effect (along with all other unpassed bills) when the
108th Congress adjourned without passing it. He plans to, according to AP
(Akaka's new communications staff, en route from Hawaii to Washington, did
not respond to a request for comments). But it cannot become law without
passing a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs vote. As chairman, McCain
decides what comes before the committee for a vote.

Another Arizona Republican, Sen. Jon Kyl, kept the bill from coming to the
Senate floor for a vote last year, when it passed the committee under the
gavel of Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, then chairman. Campbell has since
retired from the Senate.

Again in the AP account, McCain grounded his opposition in the view that
when Hawaii became a state, the "implicit view" in Congress was that Native
Hawaiians would not obtain equivalent status with Native Americans. Akaka
expressed surprise and said he would talk with McCain.