Just hours before a scheduled House vote to approve a Native American casino project backed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a single tweet from President Donald Trump killed the bill and sent its supporters--including some Republicans–scrambling.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act would overturn rulings by both the federal courts and the Trump administration’s Department of Interior and allow the Cape Cod-based tribe to acquire land in Taunton, MA (more than 40 miles from the tribal headquarters) for a $1 billion casino project. The Mashpees have an agreement with multinational gaming conglomerate Genting Malaysia, which has fronted the tribe more than $400 million.
The bill passed the House Natural Resources Committee last week by a 26-10 vote, including three Republicans. Earlier this week it was placed on the House suspension calendar for a vote on Wednesday, and without any public objection from GOP leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy.
McCarthy’s acquiescence, along with support for the bill from his fellow Californians Reps. Paul Cook and Tom McClintock, raised questions about whether some Republicans wanted to re-open the tribal casino gaming fundraising pipeline that once benefited California Rep. Richard Pombo, whose ties to corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff contributed to his defeat in 2006.
Pombo is currently under contract with Denton US, who are lobbying on behalf of Genting and the casino project. And the NRCC recently announced a fundraiser at the National Indian Gaming Association scheduled for next Wednesday.
“The question we were asking was how big a check would the tribe have to write to get Republicans to hand Warren a win,” a gaming industry source told InsideSources.
Everything changed Wednesday morning when President Trump sent out his tweet:
“Republicans shouldn’t vote for H.R. 312, a special interest casino Bill, backed by Elizabeth (Pocahontas) Warren. It is unfair and doesn’t treat Native Americans equally!” Trump tweeted.
Soon after, the bill was pulled from Wednesday’s schedule.
Sen. Warren abandoned her long-standing opposition to casino gambling –“gambling can be a real problem economically for a lot of people,” Warren said in 2014— in order to back the Mashpee bill. Many see the switch as part of her ongoing efforts to rehabilitate her standing with Native Americans in the wake of her heritage scandal.
But after the negative fallout from the release of her DNA tests—which found little if any Native American heritage—and documents from the Texas Bar showing her claiming to be an “American Indian” on an official legal registration, Warren’s standing among Native Americans fell to the point that she declined to even co-sponsor the Mashpee bill in the new Congress.
Democrats say the bill isn’t dead. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told the Washington Examiner he plans to bring up the measure again under regular order.
But with Trump’s announced opposition the bill is likely to get little GOP support in the House, and it has virtually no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate.
Massachusetts Democrat Joseph P. Kennedy III, who represents Taunton, MA where the 321-acre casino project was to be located, tweeted in response
“We should expect nothing less than this from a man who lies for a living. But this lie is especially egregious because it threatens the very existence of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe that welcomed the Pilgrims to these shores. This is dangerous (once again) & racist (once again).”
Sen. Warren’s office declined requests for comment.