Why Bill Clinton Tried to Stop These Tiny Islands From Joining Congress

There are three reasons and they aren’t very good.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
March 14, 2014, 1:24 p.m.

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.

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