Native Americans Make History in New Congress

Jan 3, 2019 | News

The 116th Congress came to order at noon today, beginning at least two years of divided government with Republicans in control of the Senate and Democrats in control of the House of Representatives.

Four Native Americans, Reps. Tom Cole (R-OK-4), Sharice Davids (D-KS-3), Deb Haaland (D-NM-1), and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK-2), made history when they were sworn in. There has never been four Native American Congressmen at one time, and Reps. Davids and Haaland are now the first Native American Congresswomen in U.S. history.


The Native American Congressional Incumbents


Reps. Cole and Mullin are returning to Congress, the former serving his district since 2003 and the latter serving since 2013. For the next two years, Rep. Cole, co-chair of the Native American Caucus, will serve on the Appropriations Committee and will be the Ranking Member on the House Rules Committee, which oversees all legislation before being considered on the House floor.

“Going into the new Congress, I am honored to serve as Ranking Member of the House Rules Committee,” said Cole. “While divided government is challenging, the American people are still counting on Congress to govern. Without question, the Rules Committee is an essential piece in the process of fulfilling that duty effectively.”

Rep. Mullin, a vice-chair of the Native American Caucus, is expected to continue his service on the following three subcommittees: Energy, Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection, and Health.

Reps. Cole and Mullin most recently led efforts in the House to pass H.R. 2606, which amends the Stigler Act of 1947 to “remove the one-half degree Native American blood quantum restriction for holders of tribal allotment land.” Rep. Mullin says that “the legislation specifically impacts citizens of Oklahoma’s Five Tribes: the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole nations.”


The Native American Congressional Freshmen


Rep. Davids and Haaland are two of the more than 100 congressional freshmen elected to the 116th Congress. Davids has recently been elected as Regional Whip and has opened her first district office location in Downtown Overland Park.

Many congressional freshmen have not been officially assigned to committees yet, but Davids has expressed interest in working across the aisle on issues related to Medicare. “There were a couple of people on the Republican side that literally talked about ‘come talk to me,’” said Davids. “I want to talk to you about how we can address some of the prescription drug price issues and working on issues around Medicaid. Working on Medicare and being able to address drug prices.”

In addition, Rep. Haaland has been elected as the Freshman Class Representative to the powerful House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which assigns congressional members to committees. Haaland has also been appointed as Deputy Whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Rep. Haaland’s website lists several of her congressional priorities, including issues related to the environment, the economy, healthcare, and taxes. In a Hill op-ed, Haaland has called on Congress to pursue legislation that would bring more equity to Indian Country.

“When the historic members of our new congressional class take office in January, our bold policy agenda will make sure no one is left behind,” said Haaland. “Today, I invite my colleagues to join me in adding to that agenda a commitment to finally bring equity to Indian Country.”

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