- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2019

A Massachusetts tribe seeking to build a $1 billion casino resort has renewed its push for a congressional boost, but this time without the conspicuous support of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who may have done more to hurt the effort than help it.

So far Ms. Warren, who led the fight in the last session, has not reintroduced Senate legislation to place land into federal trust on behalf of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, even as the House bill saw testimony Wednesday before a subcommittee.

Ms. Warren has not commented publicly about whether she plans to reenter the fray, but throwing her support behind the bill last year wound up raising the political stakes by dragging the legislation into the hubbub over her presidential ambitions and disputed American Indian heritage.

What’s more, President Trump is seen as unlikely to sign legislation championed by Ms. Warren as she blasts him daily on the campaign trail in her bid to capture the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, meaning her lower profile could be a strategic move.

“They’ve finally made the political calculation that she’s killing them,” said an industry source who opposes the bill.

Clyde Barrow, political science professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said the Mashpee tribe’s chances in the 116th Congress would be slim, with or without Ms. Warren.

He said Republicans, who control the Senate, have been historically cool to Indian gaming, while Mr. Trump has a record of “just absolutely opposing it vehemently since his days in the industry.”

“The Senate’s not going to move anything they know the president’s not going to approve,” said Mr. Barrow, a gaming policy expert. “And as we go into the presidential election season, they’re also not going to be inclined to do favors for any of the opposition candidates like Warren who are running for president.”

Ms. Warren and Sen. Edward Markey, both Massachusetts Democrats, introduced the 2018 bill after a federal judge barred the Interior Department from taking 321 acres of Mashpee land into trust for a reservation, a prerequisite for a tribal casino.

By that time, the Genting Group, a Malaysian investor, had sunk an estimated $400 million into First Light Resort and Casino, a proposed $1 billion tribal gaming attraction in Taunton, Massachusetts, about 30 miles from the Twin River Casino Hotel in Lincoln, Rhode Island.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Claire Richards, counsel to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, testified that the Mashpee bill would deal a blow to her state’s revenue base and encourage more bills aimed at leapfrogging the federal trust-acquisition process.

Rep. William Keating, the Massachusetts Democrat who sponsored H.R. 312, 

countered that Rhode Island “has decided that protection of their casino revenue is more important than the long-term existence of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe.”

“The opposition to [H.R. 312] is grounded in the belief that Rhode Island’s decision to build near the Massachusetts state line should grant them territorial rights that extend over that border and into the commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Mr. Keating said.

Also backing the bill was Rep. Ruben Gallego, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee’s Indigenous Peoples subcommittee, who said the “legal limbo imposed by this decision has left the Mashpee on the brink of dissolution.”

The subcommittee did not vote on the measure, fueling speculation that the bill may skip the committee process and move straight to the House floor.

Rep. Paul Gosar, Arizona Republican, argued that the bill would thwart decisions by the Interior Department and the federal court, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that only tribes recognized as of 1934 may have federal land taken into trust.

The Mashpee, known as the people who welcomed the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, did not receive federal recognition until 2007. The tribe has about 2,600 members.

“If H.R. 312 is passed, Congress will declare years of fighting and victories by local stakeholders as if they never happened,” said Mr. Gosar. “Congress will also take the view that current federal law should not apply to the Mashpee tribe.”

The tribe has also come under recent scrutiny over its leadership. In January, chairman Cedric Cromwell was stripped of his financial authority over tribal affairs and gaming, followed by a no-confidence vote of the tribal council, but in February the panel rescinded the vote and reinstated his authority.

Former Mashpee Chairman Glenn Marshall was convicted in 2009 of fraud and embezzling from the tribe while working with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Asked if the legislation was a “bailout bill” for Genting, Mashpee Vice Chairwoman Jessie Little Doe Baird pointed to the expense of the legal battles involving tribal and reservation recognition.

“[W]e are forced to enter into agreements and find funding to help us get through these processes,” said Ms. Baird. “And they’re very expensive. The federal acknowledgement process alone took 30 years and cost us millions of dollars as did the land-in-trust process.”

Replied Mr. Gosar: “You’ll never get out from underneath that debt.”

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