- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2019

The House passed Wednesday legislation to pave the way for a Massachusetts tribal casino, an issue that landed on the national stage thanks to support from Sen. Elizabeth Warren and opposition from President Trump.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act won approval on a 276-146 vote, with 47 Republicans joining Democrats to back the measure and send the bill to the Senate, where it faces long odds.

The bill would take 321 acres into trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag, allowing the tribe to build the $1 billion First Light Resort and Casino, located 40 miles from the tribe’s ancestral home and just 30 miles from a Rhode Island gaming resort.

A Malaysian investor, Genting Group, has sunk $400 million into the project, prompting foes to blast the proposal as a “bailout bill,” but its sponsor, Rep. William Keating, Massachusetts Democrat, insisted that wasn’t the case.

“People are saying this is a circumvention dealing with gaming. This isn’t about gaming,” Mr. Keating said in a floor speech, adding, “It’s about justice. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about taking a tribe that through its whole history has lost all of its land.”

The Interior Department agreed in 2015 to take the land into trust on the tribe’s behalf, only to be overruled in 2016 by a federal judge, who said only tribes recognized as of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act qualified for land-in-trust, as per a 2009 Supreme Court decision.

The Mashpee tribe, which has about 2,600 enrolled members, was recognized in 2007. The department ultimately deferred to the court in 2018 after reviewing the judge’s ruling.

The only two Democrats who voted against the bill were Rhode Island Reps. James Langevin and David Cicilline, who argued that the bill would “open the floodgates for tribes to hire the biggest lobbyist they can to get their carveout from Congress.”

“Doe we really want to go down this road? Does Congress want to be in the business of picking winners and losers? Because that’s exactly what this bill does,” Mr. Cicilline said in his floor remarks.

Mr. Keating pointed out that Massachusetts has agreed to allow construction of a casino in the southeastern region, even if it’s not tribal-owned.

“I’ve got news for the people of Rhode Island. They can do their best to kill this bill and destroy this tribe,” he said. “It’s still going to get a casino.”

Ms. Warren sponsored an identical bill in the previous Congress despite her longstanding opposition to gaming expansion as she sought to mend fences with Native Americans over her much-criticized claim to Cherokee ancestry during her law school career.

The Massachusetts senator, a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, does not belong to a recognized tribe.

Mr. Trump cited her involvement in a tweet last week urging Republicans to vote against the measure.

“Republicans shouldn’t vote for H.R. 312, a special interest casino Bill, backed by Elizabeth (Pocahontas) Warren,” he tweeted. “It is unfair and doesn’t treat Native Americans equally!”

Although Mr. Trump is unlikely to sign the bill even if it does win Senate approval, Mashpee chairman Cedric Cromwell cheered the House victory.

“This is a Big Step for My Tribe, The People of The First, The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Nation!!” he said in a Facebook post. “Powerful Day for My people!! Onward to the Senate!!”

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