Tuesday, October 7, 2014

RADIO REPORT: Faleomavaega Coming Home 'Soon'

Radio Station KHJ-FM Washington correspondent Matt Kaye reports that Faleomavaega intends to return to the territory before the November 4 election to campaign for re-election.  Although the story that appeared on KHJ’s talanei.com website quoted that he will be “going home soon-in the next couple of weeks,” there is no indication if these were words that Faleomavaega spoke to Kaye or Kaye was quoting someone on staff.  The story did not include embedded soundbites.

Although Kaye said this announcement ends “speculation that his illness might keep him in Washington,” it remains a mystery what is keeping Faleomavaega in Washington more than three weeks after Congress has recessed for the campaign.  Yes, one day after the recess he attended a White House barbecue but his press release to that effect announcing President Obama had invited him was virtually meaningless since it is an annual affair to which all Members always are invited regardless of party.  Since it was the evening before the recess, he had plenty of time to catch a plane to Honolulu on Thursday, remain overnight, and come down to Pago Pago on Friday.  But no Eni.

There was speculation that because he attended the first San Diego Pacific Islanders Festival in 1994, perhaps he would attend the 20th anniversary of that event on the weekend after recess on the way home.  Since it draws a crowd of 150,000 people, many of them Samoans, he could do a little fundraising then head out to the Pacific to catch the Monday flight down to Pago Pago.  But, again, no Eni.

Since he is Ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, which also included legislative and oversight jurisdiction over the global environment during the four years of his chairmanship (2007-11), it also seemed plausible that he would remain in Washington to take the short hop up to New York to participate in the UN summit on global climate change, particularly since he skipped the Small Island Developing States conference in Apia in August.  But, again, no Eni.

It was thought that surely he would have been in New York because there would have been many opportunities to meet with Asian and Pacific leaders there for U.N. General Assembly debate while awaiting the meeting India Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to hold with nearly 40 Members of Congress the day of his major Madison Square Garden speech on September 28.  This one seemed a given not only because of Faleomavaega’s position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee but also because he has been so public and visible on U.S.-India relations, and a champion of Modi, who was just elected last Spring.  But no Eni in New York. 

In fact, he was eclipsed by the only other Samoan in Congress, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a freshman Member who already has risen to third in seniority on the A-P subcommittee and has an even more special relationship with Modi since she is the first Hindu ever elected to Congress.  When Modi was elected, Faleomavaega put out a press release congratulating him.  Gabbard, on the other hand, telephoned to congratulate him and got him right on the line.  She also received much publicity for making a special presentation following his speech while Faleomavaega was relegated to writing an op-ed piece for an Indian on-line publication called Business Today.

If for some reason he were not in New York but still not traveling home, perhaps he was waiting for Modi’s subsequent visit to Washington, where the Prime Minister had additional meetings, a White House dinner and a State Department lunch.  According to Kaye’s report, Faleomavaega was not included on the elite guest list for the Obama dinner.  Perhaps the White House figured since he attended the barbecue, where he got a fresh photo with the president, that should be enough. Whatever the reason, no Eni.

But, aha, Kaye reports that Faleomavaega was to participate in the State Department lunch co-hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden.  These lunches are considered the consolation prizes for people who cannot not get on the “A List” for a White House dinner.  Quite a come down for someone so senior and so vocal on India.  Perhaps he paid a price for outspokenly criticizing Obama and Kerry for U.S. policy towards India .  We will take Kaye at his word that Faleomavaega was at that lunch but it is over a week after the lunch and there is no press release out of the delegate’s office. Since Modi’s visit, all he has had is a release commemorating the fifth anniversary of the tsunami in Samoa and announcing the availability of some college scholarships. Curious, considering how much he has publicized U.S.-India relations and his support for Modi.

So here we are: no more congressional sessions, no more U.N. gatherings, no more Asian head of government visits, no more barbecues.  The only reason he might have been here is to stand outside the Washington Redskins stadium to shake his fist at the owner as part of his effort to get the team nickname changed to something less offensive to some Native American groups.  However, if he were there last night for the Monday night game for that purpose, there has been no publicity.

Several years ago after an election, he made a point of expressing his pleasure that another delegate had taken the chairmanship of the House insular subcommittee, leaving him free to concentrate on Asian issues.  Now it might be said that much of the rationale for his continuance in office is lost due to his chronic illness.  It seems clear that his foreign travel days are over and a popular young congresswoman of Samoan descent has made his presence on the Foreign Affairs Committee unnecessary as well.

It is particularly ironic that he has been grounded at a time when the National Journal has produced a report of congressional travel that crowned him “the most-frequent free flyer” of all, [who] was treated to a dozen international excursions in the past three years [2011-2013].   And that of course was without benefit of additional trips he might have taken in the fourth quarters of 2013, most of which he spent in a hospital bed.   The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, when Congress is out of session, is one of the most popular times for congressional travel.  

It continues to be mystifying why Faleomavaega presses on.  His pension is fully funded, his health insurance is terrific, he can keep his plan in retirement, he cannot get his agenda—if he has one—enacted because he is in the minority and all analysts say that his party will continue to be in the minority after this election and, because of the way the district lines are drawn, may remain in the minority until at least 2022 when Faleomavaega would be 79 years old.  Moreover, his health is such that he will need to be near kidney dialysis machines for the rest of his life, so that will limit the time he can be away and where he can go.

For now, every day he is away, every important event and funeral he skips and every campaign opportunity he misses, including TV appearances and candidate debates, people are getting more and more irritated.  Whether he actually will return “in the next couple of weeks” remains to be seen.


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