FALEOMAVAEGA LOSING TOUCH WITH REALITY
From ABCDEF Blog May 29, 2014
If anyone is looking for evidence that Faleomavaega really has lost his mind, perhaps his reaction to the growing Veterans Affairs crisis is providing it. With a highly critical VA Inspector General’s report being released the same day, the delegate’s timing could hardly have been worse than to rise to speak to the matter yesterday on the Floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The IG report released yesterday confirmed allegations that a Phoenix, VA facility concealed a long waiting list for veterans who needed healthcare treatment. As Faleomavaega took to the Floor with his full-throated (so to speak) defense of the embattled VA leader, retired army general Erik Shinseki, prominent members of his own party in both houses were scurrying to demand the secretary's resignation.
Acknowledging there were new reports of cover-ups in VA facilities, the Samoan delegate, looking old, tired and frail at the podium, argued in a weak and raspy voice that Secretary Shinseki should be given the chance to “fix a system that was broken long before he took charge,” in what might be seen as a little bit of rearguard Bush bashing while ignoring the fact that we are now almost six years into the Obama administration, veterans health was one of Obama’s key campaign pledges and Shinseki has been at the helm of the VA since the beginning.
Saying “General Shinseki is right for America’s veterans . . . is a tried and proven leader (and is) the highest ranked Asian American in the history of the United States,” Faleomavaega pleaded with Congress to “let us stand together to do the right thing by our veterans.” So far we have not heard anyone critical of Shinseki being labeled as “racist,” and do hope the delegate’s reference to Shinseki’s Japanese heritage was not a subtle opening shot but he did misstate the secretary’s place in history. He must have meant to say Shinseki was the highest ranked Asian American military officer in American history because there have been Asian American cabinet officers in the past, as recently as Labor Secretary Elaine Chao in the Bush administration.
Faleomavaega then concluded by addressing his remarks to the secretary: “I say this to Secretary Shinseki: Do not resign. We are with you. Go for broke and let’s clean up this mess that has been there way before you took over.”
Perhaps Faleomavaega can take some small comfort from the fact that at the moment he finds himself “sort of” on the same side of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who this morning again declined to call for Shinseki to step down despite the growing chorus from both Republicans and Democrats that he do so.
“I’m going to continue to reserve judgment on General Shinseki,” Boehner said at a press conference following a meeting of the House GOP. “The question I ask myself is, is him resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem? Is it going to help us find out what’s really going on? And the answer I keep getting is no.”
Boehner wisely is staying above the fray for the moment and following the old Napoleon dictum to never interfere when your adversary is busy destroying himself. Boehner and other Republicans on the sidelines no doubt are just as happy to let the Democrats wallow in the VA mess.
Meanwhile, NBC’s “First Read” blog weighed in this morning with this: “Well, it's official: The Democratic dam broke on Wednesday in demanding VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation after an inspector general's preliminary report confirmed long wait times and misconduct at VA hospitals. The first Democrat to call for his resignation was Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), who's in a competitive race for re-election. Next was appointed Sen. John Walsh (D-MT), who's also running a tough race. Then came Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Al Franken (D-MN). So now that the dam is broken, the questions become: WHEN does Shinseki resign, and WHO replaces him?”
“So they need to find someone,” continued First Read, “and find him or her quickly. But they've also got to find the right person, too. Shinseki doesn't go until the White House finds a suitable replacement. They know they look like they've been slow to respond on this; the last thing they are likely to do is simply leave a void at the top of the VA while they try to find a replacement. And that appears to be where we're at right now -- searching for a replacement.”
Faleomavaega’s decision to jump into this controversy marching to the beat of his own drummer is puzzling, especially since he announced earlier this year that during his rehabilitation from the strokes he is suspected to have suffered last fall that he would be concentrating on American Samoa issues. Since he was not home for Memorial Day when virtually every Member of Congress was, it must be assumed he is still rehabilitating probably under doctor’s orders not to take long air trips.
Perhaps it has to do with a friendship that might have developed over the fact that they are contemporaries (Shinseki is 10 months older) who both grew up in Hawaii and served in the army at the same time in their early adulthood. Since Faleomavaega reportedly spent the early part of his rehabilitation at a VA facility in the San Francisco Bay area, perhaps Shinseki pulled some strings to get some priority treatment from his fellow Aloha stater and Faleomavaega is paying him back. Another possibility is that since he injected race into his short speech, maybe he is merely closing ranks with a fellow Asia Pacific American. Or, perhaps Faleomavaega really is out of touch with what is going on around him.
The subject of race was not very ambiguous when he took to the Floor on a second occasion yesterday, this time to deliver a lengthier speech on one of his pet projects: changing the name of the Washington Redskins football team. Over the past year, the delegate has been at the forefront of a move to force Redskins team owner Dan Snyder drop the nickname Redskins as being racist, accusing him of bigotry as bad as that of outgoing Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Again, another issue not particularly burning here but perhaps Faleomavaega was emboldened to renew his crusade by the recent letter to Snyder on this subject signed by 50 members of the U.S. Senate—all Democrats.
In a USA Today story several days ago, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he thought Snyder would not be moved by a letter from 50 senators and further stated there was “no chance” that a bill offered by Faleomavaega last year canceling Redskins’ trademarks would pass. The bill has been stuck in a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee since introduction.
The delegate seems to revel in championing lost causes and pick fights where none are necessary. Earlier this year, an initiative with the Agriculture Department was taken to reduce the “Buy American” content of canned tuna. Samoa News asked Office of Insular Affairs Director Nikolao Pula if the Interior Department were aware of the move and he responded that although it was an Agriculture issue he had been made aware of the issue by folks who contacted his office several days before the arrival of an official letter dated Feb. 4, 2014, from Congressman Faleomavaega to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. He said his office received a copy of that letter Feb. 7.
For some inexplicable reason, Pula’s innocuous response set off Faleomavaega, who fired off a press release in which he was quoted as saying “On February 4, 2014, I… submitted a letter and…same power point presentation to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, which was faxed and received in her office at 1:51 pm on February 4, which is contrary to Mr. Pula’s comments that the letter was received late afternoon on February 5. Included with my letter to Secretary Jewell was substantial information on the subject from The Hill and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.”
“Also, according to emails my office received from OIA, my letter to Secretary Jewell was received by OIA on February 6, which is contrary to Mr. Pula’s comments that OIA received a copy of my letter on February 7. For the record, as a matter of protocol, Members of Congress write directly to the Secretary and it is up to the Secretary’s office to transmit the information accordingly.”
“Also, as a matter of record, on February 7, 2014, OIA asked my office for the names and contact information of the persons at USDA with whom we are communicating and, in response, my office offered to set up an appointment between OIA, USDA officials and my staff to ensure that all messages remain consistent. OIA responded that they would prefer to have a separate meeting so my office connected OIA by email to our USDA contacts. USDA officials informed OIA via email that a meeting had already taken place with my office but if OIA had specific questions about the report that were still outstanding that they would be happy to answer them.”
“As of today, our USDA contacts have informed my office that they have not heard back from OIA, which is okay, since as Mr. Pula has stated in Samoa News, ‘this issue is directed at a program managed by the US Department of Agriculture, not Interior.’ Nevertheless, I continue to welcome OIA’s involvement in any future meetings about this issue.”
This is not the full release but it should be enough to demonstrate his overkill on this subject. Now we all know that the Interior Secretary received a fax on this issue at 1:51 p.m. on February 4 although he did not explain he was able to include a powerpoint presentation in the fax. One is also left to wonder why the background information he included with his letter was newspaper clipping and not research work gathered by his own staff following the issue in Congress.
Maybe it is not the effects of the suspected stroke but just a flair for creating enemies. He demonstrated that talent last September before he took ill when he commented on President Obama’s appointment of Esther Kia’aina as next assistant secretary for insular affairs. In a press release congratulating her on her appointment, among other things he said “Although I was in support of Nikolao Pula as the candidate for the position, I look forward to working closely with Kia‘āina.”
In the space of a single sentence he managed to embarrass Pula, a career Interior official who may not have wanted known publicly he was seeking the job or was passed over, alienated Kia’aina by signaling she wasn’t his first choice and announcing publicly his lack of influence in getting his own choice selected. So the fact that he telegraphed once again his lack of influence yesterday on the Floor by announcing Snyder ignored his letter asking him to change the name of the Redskins should come as no surprise.
Obama ignored him on the OIA appointment, Snyder ignored him on the Redskins name change and now we shall see if Shinseki ignores his plea not to resign. Stay tuned. If his Mormon Church ever were to develop a system of saints, Faleomavaega would be a strong candidate to be selected as the church’s patron saint for lost causes.