Thursday, February 4, 2010


Remember that you read it here first. January 8, 2010 is the day Faleomavaega reached the peak of his influence in Washington. If you are startled because you have read so many of our previous essays in which we indicated that he is lightly regarded in Congress, there is no contradiction. He is not very influential to begin with, but whatever influence he has had, he began to lose once he issued a press release—widely printed throughout the region—publicly criticizing President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for ignoring the small island states during her aborted trip to the region. Once a copy of the release crossed the desk of Rahm “the Enforcer” Emanuel, who was brought in as White House Chief of Staff because of his ability to keep House Democrats in line behind Obama, we can easily imagine him reacting “What a f**king retard.”

Just 11 days after Faleomavaega’s injudicious attack on the leaders of his own party, Massachusetts Republicans captured the senate seat previously held by Edward M. Kennedy and set off a political earthquake in Washington. Coupled with victories last November in governorships in New Jersey and Virginia, Republicans gained enough momentum to derail Obama’s legislative agenda and leave open the question of what Congress will accomplish this year. As congressional Democrats’ fortunes fall, so, too, do Faleomavaega’s. After all he has a lot riding on his proposed legislation to bail out StarKist so they will keep their tuna cannery in American Samoa.

In his 21 years in Congress, Faleomavaega always has had an explanation for his ineffectiveness that the voters swallowed hook, line and sinker. After a very narrow first election in 1988, when he ran for re-election in 1990 and 1992, he explained how difficult it was for him to do much because the White House was controlled by a Republican who did not give much priority to the territories. After he was re-elected in 1992 along with a Democratic president to go along with continued Democratic control of Congress, he told the media that they had to produce now that his party controlled everything.

But in fact he produced nothing in the next two years but when facing the voters in 1994, he argues that he still was much too junior in the House to have any great achievements. Be patient, he counseled, be patient. Of course, on election night the voters sent him back to the House by a comfortable margin but the House and Senate would be quite different, because Republicans had taken control of both chambers.

For the next three terms he told voters he was doing the best he could under the circumstances (of being in the minority) and for three more terms he spoke of the additional burden of trying to accomplish things with a Congress and White House run by Republicans. But then in 2006, Democrats won back control of the Congress and Faleomavaega had acquired enough seniority to be awarded a subcommittee chairmanship.

House leaders no doubt were relieved that Faleomavaega’s interest was in foreign affairs because that is a subject over which the House has little power. Eni has proved himself a loose cannon over the years, so they hoped he would do little damage as chairman of the Asia Pacific subcommittee. He still argues he was somewhat handcuffed because George Bush still ruled the White House.

Then came 2008. Like 1992, Democrats won it all, only this time Eni now was very senior in his party, had a subcommittee chairmanship and had the advantage of having been an early supporter of Barack Obama while the nomination was still contested. Moreover, Obama grew up in Hawaii, as did Faleomavaega. So when Congress convened in January 2009, at last Faleomavaega had it all.

Now, just a year later, it all has come crashing down with his press release. As crazy as the move seems, perhaps there he is setting up a new excuse for failure. Let’s take a look at what has happened since Eni has “had it all” with Obama’s inauguration.

• He was not invited to accompany Hillary Clinton on her trip to Indonesia last year, even though Indonesia’s West Papua policy is his number one issue;
• The Speaker did not invite him to join her congressional delegation to Beijing to discuss climate change, even though both China and global environment are within the jurisdiction of his subcommittee;
• The Speaker did not invite him to join her massive delegation to international global warming talks in Copenhagen;
• Obama did not invite him to the State Dinner for the Prime Minister of India, even though he is a senior member of the congressional caucus on India;
• Hillary Clinton did not seek his input on the itinerary for her trip to the Pacific, ignored small island state issues in her East West Center address, did not invite Faleomavaega to be there for her speech and did not invite him on her trip;
• The administration and several Democratic colleagues testified against his proposed legislation to subsidize StarKist so they will stay in American Samoa.
• The Interior budget for FY11 contains no funds for a prospective StarKist bailout.

So, if this is the peak of his influence, what’s the point? Perhaps his attack on Obama and Clinton was meant to put him in a position to be “punished” so he has yet another excuse at election time as to why he did not deliver. Why not? After all, his condemnation of his leaders was embraced warmly by his electorate.

Meanwhile, his fortunes in Washington continue on a downward spiral. But as long as he has the checkbook to pay for his relentless travel schedule, why should he care? Especially since he has Samoa News in his pocket, willing to cover up any and all of his foibles and failures.

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