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House passes tribal casino bill one week after Trump urged GOP to oppose it

libadmin May 15, 2019

May 15 at 4:36 PM

The House on Wednesday passed a bipartisan bill that will pave the way for a new Massachusetts tribal casino, one week after President Trump urged lawmakers to vote against the measure, which is opposed by a key White House ally.

The bill, H.R. 312, passed on a 275-to-146 vote, with 47 Republicans crossing party lines to join all but two Democrats present in voting in favor.

It would confirm the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s sovereignty over 321 acres of land, including the Taunton, Mass., site eyed for the casino project.

The bill, co-sponsored by more than a dozen Democrats and six Republicans, was scheduled for a House vote last week under expedited procedures requiring a two-thirds majority to pass, reflecting its broad support. But in a tweet that blindsided lawmakers of both parties, Trump urged Republicans to oppose the measure, which he sought to tie to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

“Republicans shouldn’t vote for H.R. 312, a special interest casino Bill, backed by Elizabeth (Pocahontas) Warren,” Trump declared in the tweet, using a nickname he has frequently deployed to deride the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. “It is unfair and doesn’t treat Native Americans equally!”

Warren co-sponsored a similar 2018 bill introduced by Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), but there is no Senate legislation pertaining to the tribe pending in the current Congress.

The potential Mashpee casino site is not far from two Rhode Island casinos run by Twin River Worldwide Holdings, a public company with strong Trump ties. The company has hired American Conservative Union Chairman Matthew Schlapp, a vocal Trump supporter, to lobby for it on the land issue. Schlapp’s wife, Mercedes, is director of strategic communications at the White House.

Matthew Schlapp said in a statement last week said that he has “lobbied against the casino because it is a “terrible idea” and that his wife “had no role in my advocacy.”

The House measure heads to the Senate for consideration.

During Wednesday’s House floor debate, Rep. William R. Keating (D-Mass.), the measure’s sponsor, was unsparing in his criticism of Trump, accusing the president of “trying to sink an entire Native American tribe in the name of special interests, dirty lobbying and outright bigotry.”

“The cast of characters behind the scenes spewing misinformation is revealing,” Keating said. “Cultural warfare to benefit bank accounts. Corrupt intent for personal gain, all in the form of a racist tweet. And some members of this body are eager to let him get away with it — but not me, not my co-sponsors and not the majority of this House.”

Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), whose district includes Taunton, cast Wednesday’s vote as “a matter of right and wrong, of correcting a historical injustice that has been perpetrated for far too long.”

“There is no argument other than greed that comes back to why anyone should vote against this bill,” he said.

Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) led lawmakers speaking in opposition to the measure, arguing in part that the bill would primarily benefit Genting Malaysia, the casino developer backing the project.

“Do you really want to vote for a $500 million bailout for a foreign gaming corporation?” he asked.

Rep. David N. Cicilline (R.I.), one of two Democrats to vote against the measure, argued that the bill amounts to “a special deal for a single tribe, and that’s just wrong.” But he also acknowledged that he was acting to protect Rhode Island’s economic interests.

“I am very proud of my fierce defense for my state, and putting an off-reservation on the border would have a significant negative impact for Rhode Island,” he said.

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.



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