One of the lesser-known offices on Capitol Hill is that of Gregorio Sablan, the nonvoting delegate for the Northern Mariana Islands.
Sablan’s is one of the most disempowered positions in Congress (nonvoting delegates may only vote in a House committee of which the delegate is a member, never as part of Congress). Yet, according to documents released Friday from the Clinton Library, getting even this puny amount of power was an uphill climb.
The islands, located in the western Pacific Ocean about three-quarters of the way between Hawaii and the Philippines, were established as a commonwealth in political union with the United States in 1975. It wasn’t until 1986 that the islands were officially placed under U.S. sovereignty and its people became American citizens. And it wasn’t until 2008 that its citizens were awarded a delegate’s seat in Congress — no thanks to the Clinton administration.
In 1994, White House official Jeff Farrow explained in a note to senior Clinton official Maricia Hale that while he personally thought the Northern Mariana Isands should be allowed to have a delegate, it could prove politically troublesome for the administration, citing as evidence a front-page story in The Washington Post titled “U.S. Pacific Paradise Is Hell for Some Foreign Workers.”
Clinton domestic policy adviser Jeremy Ben-Ami elaborated in a note to fellow domestic policy adviser Carol Rasco. “As I mentioned to you previously, Keith Mason (Intergovernmental), Janet Murguia (Legislative) and I have agreed to advise Ed Cohen, the President’s Special Representative to negotiations with the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (CNMI) not-to endorse giving the CNMI a Congressional delegate at this time,” he wrote.
Other nonvoting delegates include the District of Columbia’s Eleanor Holmes Norton; Puerto Rico’s Pedro Pierluisi; and Guam’s Madeleine Bordallo. Below are the reasons the Clinton administration didn’t think the Northern Mariana Islands should join their ranks.