Senate is blind: Healthcare vote minus a draft, public hearings, or common sense

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) brief the press on the upcoming vote on a repeal and replacement for the Affordable Care Act. (Photo via McConnell Press Office on Twitter.)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Here we go again. Another week and the United States Senate is ready to vote on legislation to remake the entire healthcare system, including Indian health. The Senate will do this without a draft circulated for debate, public hearings, or common sense.

So what does the replacement bill look like at this point? I have no clue. Neither do the 100 senators who will make that call. As Sen. John Cornyn (one of the managers for the bill) put it: Knowing the healthcare plan ahead of the vote is a “luxury we don’t have.”

Here is what President Donald J. Trump tweeted over the weekend: “The Republican Senators must step up to the plate and, after 7 years, vote to Repeal and Replace. Next, Tax Reform and Infrastructure. WIN!”

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So there will be a vote on legislation to at least repeal the Affordable Care Act. “We have decided to hold the vote to open debate on Obamacare repeal early next week. The Obamacare repeal legislation will ensure a stable, two-year transition period, which will allow us to wipe the slate clean and start over with real patient-centered healthcare reform. This is the same legislation that a majority of the Senate voted to send to the president in 2015. Now, we thankfully have a president in office who will sign it. So we should send it to him,” said Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

But a straight repeal is complicated by Senate rules. The Senate Majority Leader is relying on the process of reconciliation (essentially matching the legislation to an existing budget) because that only requires a majority, or 50 votes. Most bills need 60 votes to stop a filibuster. Last week the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, said that defunding of Planned Parenthood, abortion coverage, and restrictions on insurance coverage does not meet that test and still required 60 voters. Same thing for the Alaska or rural exception, it’s a no go. But Senate Republicans were quick to say that any draft language (which is still missing from action) could be rewritten. Or Republicans could overrule the parliamentarian on the floor which would cause all sorts of future problems governing.

The Senate’s parliamentarian is a great example of the institutions of Congress pushing back on the Republican proposals. I don’t think it’s ideology; it’s incompetence. (As I have written before there is a conservative approach to healthcare reform, but we have not seen that yet.) The Congressional Budget Office said last week that the big ticket in this debate is Medicaid. Remember the proposals in the House and Senate go far beyond just repealing the Affordable Care Act because the proposals would fundamentally restructure Medicaid.

According to CBO: “By 2026, spending for that program would be reduced by 26 percent … About three-quarters of that reduction would result from scaling back the expansion of eligibility enacted in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In 2026, for people who are made newly eligible under the ACA (certain adults under the age of 65 whose income is less than or equal to 138 percent of the federal poverty level [FPL]), Medicaid spending would be reduced by 87 percent, from $134 billion to $17 billion—mainly because the penalty associated with the individual mandate would be repealed and the enhanced federal matching rate for spending on that group would be phased out. As a result of the reduced matching rate, some states would roll back their expansion of eligibility and others that would have expanded eligibility under current law would choose not to do so. All other federal spending on Medicaid in that year would be reduced by 9 percent, from $490 billion to $447 billion.”

This is what pays for the tax cuts in the Republican plans.

Rolling back Medicaid expansion and the traditional Medicaid program would significantly reduce funding for the Indian Health Service.

Last week the National Indian Health Board, the National Congress of American Indians, and the National Council of Urban Indian Health, wrote McConnell because one of the Senate bills, the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, would change the formula for funding Indian health patients. The three intertribal organizations call the proposal a “radical departure from over 40 years of federal policy” and it “should not be undertaken without nationwide tribal consultation.” The bill’s language reverses a policy where states get a 100 percent reimbursement for patients who get services from the Indian health system. This change, the intertribal organizations said, would “ take away this unique incentive for states to work with tribes to create Medicaid innovations that best support the Indian health system.” States could create new rules that could ignore Indian health as a partner and create new barriers that would sharply reduce funding.

North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, who is chair of the Senate Indian Affairs committee, said the changes would provide “more choice and competition in our health care system, while at the same time insuring that low-income individuals have access to healthcare coverage” via Medicaid or tax credits.

The key thing here: Native Americans could take their insurance (and the state Medicaid dollars) to another provider, reducing funding for IHS. (Competition, you know.)

It would be one more costly strike to an Indian health system that’s already underfunded.

Hoeven said a draft Senate bill also would end the requirement that tribes purchase insurance for employees. Again, the result would be less money for the Indian health system. (And, as the three intertribal organizations point out, this would be done without any tribal consultation.)

Then again the Senate and House bills are designed to strip money from the health system period. And Medicaid is such a rich target. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates the total cost to states under the Better Care bill is $519 billion.

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Back to the math and this week’s vote. There are 100 members of the Senate. The 48 Democrats are certain to vote no. And of the 52 Republicans, it’s unlikely Sen. John McCain would leave his cancer treatment in Arizona to vote on a motion to proceed (the opening of the debate and the consideration of amendments). That leaves 51 votes. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is a certain no because she objects to the attacks on Medicaid. That reduces the number to 50 (and 49 no votes). There are lots of questions about Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. Capito tweeted: “I will only vote to proceed to repeal legislation if I am confident there is a replacement plan that addresses my concerns.” And Portman said he’ll review whatever bill comes up for a vote. Murkowksi told CNN: “I don’t think it’s asking too much to say give us the time to fairly and critically analyze these numbers. And if you say, well, CBO numbers don’t matter, let’s look at the numbers that you don’t think matter. But it really does make a difference. And these numbers that we’re talking about, these are men and women, these are our families that are being impacted. So let’s please get it right.”

Does that sound like three no votes? Right now, I’d only count all three as firm maybes. Then only one needs to be the no.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

 

If, then, this. The shift from campaign promises to Indian Country policies

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President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office, Nov. 10, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

If, then, this. A series of three words explaining what happens in any new White House. If Donald Trump wins the presidency, then many (not all) of the promises made during the campaign become policy. And it happens starting next month when the Congress races to try and make this so.

But “if, then, this,” is also about people. Who staffs the new campaign, especially those who represent Indian Country? And who represents the opposition?

So let’s start with what we know.

It’s likely that President-elect Donald J. Trump will nominate Cathy McMorris Rodgers as the next Interior Secretary and Tom Price as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Who joins them? Who has their ear? How will their broad views on public policy impact Indian Country?  (Previous: Trump’s choice for Interior could risk salmon recovery, treaty rights.)

As The Atlantic said about Price. He will be running a massive federal healthcare agency, one that “administers the largest health-research centers in the world, most of the country’s public-health apparatus, the Indian Health Service, the Food and Drug Administration, and a collection of welfare and child-care services. While Price has a less-established policy record on many of these issues, his general philosophy of rolling back government spending and intervention suggests he may scale back HHS’s current efforts.” A less established policy record opens up a lot of questions.

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Another appointment, yet to be announced, would be in the next president’s executive office. Arizona State Sen. Carlyle Begay posted on Instagram: “It’s official … I’ll be working in the White House.” (Begay’s account is private, but it was reposted by Navajo Republicans on Facebook.) He doesn’t elaborate on the job title, but the most likely that post would be as a special assistant to the president on the Domestic Policy staff, a post now held by Karen Diver. Begay is Navajo.

One of the issues that the White House and Congress will have to flesh out is a proposal by Rep. Markwayne Mullin to reform the regulatory structure for tribal lands. A story in Reuters last week compared that plan to the termination, something that Mullin (who is a member of the Cherokee Nation) and former Interior Assistant Secretary Ross Swimmer say is not the case. Swimmer, who is also former principal chief for the Cherokee Nation, told Reuters: “It has to be done with an eye toward protecting sovereignty.”

Mullin said the press misunderstood him. He posted on Facebook: “This is a very personal and important issue for me and I want to clarify my actual comments that were distorted by the media. It is still and will always be my belief that the land entrusted to tribes belongs to the Native American people, and it ought to be up to them alone to decide how to best use and distribute the resources on their own land.”

Economist Terry Anderson has been making this case for years first from a think tank in Montana, The Property and Environment Research Center, and rom the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He wrote just last month: “President-elect Trump is well positioned to grant more freedom to Native Americans.” (Note to Republicans: If you are serious about making this a policy, I would avoid the ‘free the Indians’ narrative. This was Arthur Watkins’ pitch during termination. The phrase has a definite and failed context.)

As will often be the case in a Trump White House, Anderson’s argument focuses on energy. “Considering the fact that tribes have an estimated $1.5 trillion in energy resources, President Trump should start by promoting more tribal authority over those resources,” Anderson wrote. “Such legislation is helping tribes like the coal-rich Crow. In 2013 it signed an option with Cloud Peak Energy, LLC to lease 1.4 billion tons of reservation coal. For the option, Cloud Peak paid the tribe $3.75 million and payments could increase to $10 million by 2018 if they start mining. These kinds of deals give Indians some reason for hope.”

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If, then, this. Except. I would question at least one variable in this argument. If tribes have more say about resource extraction, then will tribes also have more say about environmental concerns? Does this logic give tribes a veto over resource extraction? Would that include approval or rejection of the Missouri River crossing of the Dakota Access Pipeline?

And specifically on coal, if there is a smaller global market for coal, then what’s the point? The International Energy Agency last year reduced its prediction for coal demand (after a decade of growing sales) in part because China’s consumption is dropping sharply. “The coal industry is facing huge pressures, and the main reason is China, but it is not the only reason,” said the agency’s executive director Fatih Birol. “The economic transformation in China and environmental policies worldwide – including the recent climate agreement in Paris – will likely continue to constrain global coal demand.”

That study predicts coal from India and Australia are growing and that the pipeline is already exceeding the capacity. “Probable” new export mining capacities amount to approximately 95 million tonnes per annum. But the current market environment strongly discourages investments as a substantial rebound of coal prices before 2020 is unlikely. Consequently, further postponements or cancellations of projects are expected.” So it’s not a great time to unleash coal as a market force (unless even lower prices are the goal).

If the world is moving past fossil fuel expansion, then the markets will not be there. This will not change in a pro-coal administration.

If there is to be a Secretary McMorris Rodgers, then who would develop and implement policy for Indian Country as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs? There are a lot of talented Republicans who will be making their case in the next few days and weeks. You would hope that people who have served in previous administrations, such as Swimmer, will have a say in what qualities should be sought to match the requirements of the office. Same goes for elected leaders such as Mullin, Rep. Tom Cole, and even those in state governments, such as New Mexico Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, a member of the Navajo Nation.

The idea of “if, then, this,” is also important to the opposition party, the Democrats.

McMorris Rodgers must give up her congressional seat. And already there are three candidates. But former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas said he will not run in a special election. He’s now chief executive of Spokane Tribal Enterprises.

But there are other ballot possibilities. Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison is a candidate to chair the Democratic National Committee. If he were to win that job, then he has said he would give up his seat in Congress. Already on Twitter there is speculation that the best candidate for the House seat would be Minnesota Rep. Peggy Flanagan, White Earth Band of Ojibwe.

If, then, this.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

#NativeVote16 – Headline of the day? ‘Native vote tips the Electoral College’

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Interactive version of this graphic is here.

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Over the years I have joked about Indian Country being included in the Electoral College. Each tribal nation should have a vote and a say about the next president of the United States. (Of course it would have to be a much larger college. But in a country of 323 million that would make a lot of sense). Plus it would be so cool to hear the reading of votes from tribal nations.

While that’s fun to think about, the way the 2016 election map is starting to take shape, and Native American voters could actually help deliver as many as 50 electoral votes out of the  538 total. That’s because six states with a significant Native population are also close enough where every vote could be the difference.

Those states on my list: Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Let’s look at the numbers.

A look at the polls shows a tight race (again). The Real Clear Politics average of polls has a Hillary Clinton lead of 1.7 percent, 47.2 percent to 45.5 percent for Donald Trump. That shows that more Republicans sticking with Trump despite what would be disqualifications in any other election year. Paul Ryan’s statement captured that discomfort perfectly on Tuesday when he said, “I already voted for our nominee.” There is no name is needed in that sentence.

But in any election what matters is who votes.

According to the U.S. Election Project more than 28 million people have already done so. And, as I have written before, one number that I am interested in comes from the three states that break down returned ballots by gender. Women, so far, have cast 56 percent of the ballots in those states, up from 53 percent from four years ago. (African Americans, on the other hand, have turned in fewer ballots than when Barack Obama was a candidate.)

North Carolina has 15 electoral votes. The Census Bureau reports that 122,000 people consider themselves American Indian and 184,000 alone and in combination with other races.

The Elon University Poll shows North Carolina in a statistical tie. “Among likely voters, Clinton has 42 percent of the vote while Trump has 41.2 percent, with 8.7 percent saying they are still undecided in the race,” the poll showed.

The poll also showed that the gender gap is shrinking, with 55 percent of women voters planning to vote for Clinton, compared to 61 percent during the second Elon Poll nearly a month ago. Men continue to prefer Trump by a 56-44 split.

“North Carolina is still very much in play for both Trump and Clinton,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon University Poll and assistant professor of political science. “The Old North State is continuing its tradition as a source of true toss-up electoral votes.”

One thing I like about the Elon Poll is that it publishes cross tabs. Most of the demographic breakdown was limited to white and black. But thirty-nine people in the poll identified themselves as “other,” at about 5.5 percent of those surveyed, but it wasn’t a big enough pool to get a sense of what the “other” is thinking.

Wisconsin polls have consistently showed a Clinton lead in the state. A recent one by Remington Research Group pegs Clinton at 46 percent, Trump at 42 percent, Gary Johnson at 4 percent, someone else at 3 percent, and 5 percent undecided. The Remington poll includes whites, African Americans, Hispanics, and the “other” in that poll is 4 percent.

Trump campaigned in Wisconsin this week and has plans to return again.

The Native vote program has been growing in the state. The Native Vote program, a partnership with Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters Institute and tribes in the state, saw turnout increase by one percent in 2012 from 2008. “But on the reservations we saw 2 percent, 6 percent, and even 14 percent increases,” the Native Vote program reported. “The Menominee reservation even reached an astounding 90 percent voter turnout, and the Lac du Flambeau and Menominee newspapers announced that they had record turnout levels.”

Polls in Nevada also reflect a dead-heat. (The average of polls show Trump with a one-half point lead.) Two Nevada tribes were successful in getting a federal court order for early voting locations and Friday nine more tribes asked for additional polling locations, according to the Reno Gazette Journal. The filing said some tribal members in remote communities had to drive 275 miles roundtrip to cast a ballot. Native Americans are about 1.6 percent of the state. But even a small percentage is important in a state that’s tied.

Arizona and New Mexico are on different paths. Both have a long tradition where the Native Vote has impacted elections.

The Secretary of State in New Mexico publishes a list of Native American precincts, detailing where the Native vote has the most numbers. But there remains a significant gap between registered voters and those who actually turnout. In 2014, some 66,000 people were registered to vote while only 26,000 cast ballots.

New Mexico, like Wisconsin, is a state where Clinton has lead for a long time, but that Trump is trying to make competitive. One challenge for the Republican is that the state’s former governor, Gary Johnson, is polling around 7 percent. Johnson was a Republican and is now the Libertarian Party nominee.

Even in New Mexico there are no polls that include Native American voters.

Arizona is a state that Democrats would like to flip, turning a reliable Republican state into a Democratic one. If that happens the coalition will include voters from tribal nations. Clinton already has a track record here. During the primary, Navajo voters picked Clinton and challenged the narrative of Indian Country’s support for Bernie Sanders by more than 17 points. Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye recently endorsed Clinton and the campaign recently said there are some 25 field organizers working to bring out Native voters.

“Tribal communities have swung a lot of elections in Arizona,” Charlie Galbraith, a member of Navajo Nation and a political adviser to both the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee said in Buzz Feed last week. “In an election that will be razor thin, getting out the vote in Navajo Nation could turn the state blue.”

And now, Alaska, the wild card.

A poll by Craciun Research showed a Clinton lead of four points, 47 to 43 percent, over Trump. That’s just one poll. And it defies the state’s recent history. Still. It makes you wonder.

Two key points: The Alaska Native vote and gender.

The poll identifies Alaska Native voters by geography. It cites “the unprecedented endorsement of Clinton by the Alaska Federation of Natives board. In the rural North and Northwest regions of the State, the poll shows Clinton is beating Trump by a margin of almost 5:1, 74 percent to 15 percent.

Second: “The gender gap is at levels not experienced in the recent past with women supporting Clinton by a margin of 17 percent.”

A shout out to Craciun Research. I love that the Alaska Native vote is measured. Would it be so across the land.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#NativeVote16 – A Democratic House was a long shot … until last week

 

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Photo post on Facebook by Stevens County Democrats. Incumbent Republicans have a new challenge: Rejecting Trump (and making their base mad) or sticking with Trump (making it that more difficult to build a majority margin.)
Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Early in the election cycle I made a prediction: I said if Donald Trump was the Republican nominee, the House would be in play for the Democrats. The reaction (and more than once) was 30 seats? Not likely. (Previous: Native candidates could help flip Congress).

Not likely are the words of the day. It’s a possibility now because Donald Trump’s war against Republicans has not only doomed his bid for the White House, but it’s making it more likely that Democrats will win the Senate and unlikely as it was, the House. The polling data backs up this idea (certainly good news for Denise Juneau, Joe Pakootas, and Chase Iron Eyes.)

Let’s look at the numbers, shall we?

A survey for the Democrats Congressional Campaign Committee shows a seven-point advantage for Democrats in the generic poll (49 to 42 percent). This is a question asked every cycle, basically would you vote for a Democrat or a Republican? It’s usually close. It usually favors Democrats, slightly. (Remember more people vote for Democrats for Congress. Republicans win because of the district system.) Two years ago before the election the same question showed Republicans with a two-tenths of one percent lead. The final result: Democrats 49.2 percent; Republicans 48 percent. (Previous: Will Republicans stand by Trump? Watch congressional races).

But it’s now seven points. That’s sweep territory. And the prospect of the House of Representatives shifting from Paul Ryan’s leadership to Nancy Pelosi.

The Trump campaign has created an impossible political dilemma for Republican candidates because he’s now attacking Republicans and forcing them to stand with him or against him.

That leaves Republicans with three choices. Hide. Denounce Trump. Or continue supporting Trump as a flawed candidate.

Washington’s Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers picked door number three. In a statement on Spokane’s KXLY she said: “I have said all along that I absolutely disagree with some of Donald Trump’s statements – especially the video released on Friday. I will be voting for Mr. Trump because I believe that we must defeat Hillary Clinton who has a record of deliberately misleading the American people.”

Democrat Joe Pakootas  is relentless on this issue.

“Sexual assault remains a prevalent issue in our country. 1 out of 5 women and one out of 71 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. These estimates are likely very low because rape is one of the least reported crimes. Few are reported, even fewer are prosecuted, and even fewer find the rapist guilty,” Pakootas posted on his campaign web site and on Facebook. “First of all, we need to stop normalizing rape culture. This means not tolerating any talk that encourages sexual assault. We need to make sure the burden is on the perpetrator, not the victim. We need to teach individuals NOT to assault, as well as safety to victims.”

So what does Door Number Three look like politically?  According to the national survey, when Running against a Republican “who continues to endorse Donald Trump” the Democratic margin moves from a 7-point advantage to a 12-point advantage. Voters, especially mainstream voters, don’t like that approach.

The logic behind that spread is simple. To reach a majority, fifty percent plus one, a candidate needs consensus. A broad coalition of voters. So ignoring those who think Trump crossed the line will not accomplish that. And, at the same time, if you do denounce Trump, his hardcore supporters will not forgive you and stay home, vote Libertarian, or write in another name.

Who else is in this camp? Rep. Kevin Cramer in North Dakota, who is being challenged by Chase Iron Eyes.

In Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke also says he still prefers Trump over Clinton. He told Breitbart:  “What Mr. Trump said was wrong. There is no other way to say it. He should be ashamed. But, that doesn’t make Hillary any better a candidate. What we face everyday is a bureaucracy that’s grown out of control, a government that have become separated and is no longer held accountable to the people,” he said. “This is a unique election in the history of our country.”

Dozens of senior Republicans, including Speaker Ryan and Sen. John McCain, have distanced themselves from Trump. But that choice doesn’t inspire voters either, according to the DCCC survey. “Even against a ‘Republican candidate who never formally endorsed Donald Trump and now says they won’t vote for him’ the Democratic margin moves from a 7-point advantage to a 10-point advantage.” The reason? The survey reports only 39 percent of voters say: “That these Republicans are showing character and integrity for finally standing up to Donald Trump.”

Update: Some of the Republicans who wanted Trump to withdraw have now changed their minds and are back as supporters. At least voters know where they stand. For the moment.

Republican Representatives Markwayne Mullin and Tom Cole have so far been quiet, sticking with Door Number One. For now.

These are significant numbers. In a recent  Montana poll Denise Juneau trailed Zinke by three points and another by 11 points. So a 12-point swing would change everything. Same story in Washington state. And, if Iron Eyes can get his message out, even in North Dakota.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

#NativeVote16 – Why the White House needs to get involved in the Standing Rock dispute

President Obama answering a question about Standing Rock in Laos

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

I’ve been thinking a lot about the silence from the White House on the situation at Standing Rock. There have been so many calls to get involved, including a direct plea from Chairman David Archambault II.

So on Wednesday President Obama finally spoke; answering a question in Laos. He cited the stellar record of his administration and then he said: “And this issue of ancestral lands and helping them preserve their way of life is something that we have worked very hard on. Now, some of these issues are caught up with laws and treaties, and so I can’t give you details on this particular case. I’d have to go back to my staff and find out how are we doing on this one.

But what I can tell you is, is that we have actually restored more rights among Native Americans to their ancestral lands, sacred sites, waters, hunting grounds. We have done a lot more work on that over the last eight years than we had in the previous 20, 30 years. And this is something that I hope will continue as we go forward.”

Of course this has been an amazing eight years. Or should I say almost eight years. The president was on the other side of the world answering a question when he had not been briefed. The president doesn’t have the time to watch the news, or read newspapers, so issues even as important as this one can slip by. But there should have been a paragraph, a short memo, something that was placed in front of the president. Instead the president, who has done more for Native Americans than anyone else, had a deer-in-the-headlights moment, not unlike George Bush or Ronald Reagan.

What should the White House be doing? Ideally propose a solution. President Obama’s executive order on tribal consultation is clear about what should be done. It says: “History has shown that failure to include the voices of tribal officials in formulating policy affecting their communities has all too often led to undesirable and, at times, devastating and tragic results. By contrast, meaningful dialogue between Federal officials and tribal officials has greatly improved Federal policy toward Indian tribes. Consultation is a critical ingredient of a sound and productive Federal-tribal relationship.”

There are hundreds of people camped near the Standing Rock Reservation, ready to engage in peaceful, civil disobedience, who are trying to avoid those devastating and tragic results. Meanwhile elected North Dakota government officials — who cannot even bring themselves to visit the camp and learn about what’s occurring — have a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of the protest and are calling for more law enforcement action, including the National Guard.

Some history: Over the years I have interviewed a number of people who have worked in the Nixon White House. There were three major crises involving Indian Country: the occupations of Alcatraz, the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters, and Wounded Knee.

John Ehrlichman and Leonard Garment both told me about the tension between those who would use government power — law enforcement and troops — versus those who wanted to find a peaceful resolution

This is only the story as remembered by government officials, not the full account. Thart said: Alcatraz was first. The California island was occupied in November 1969 by a group of college students would form “Indians of All Tribes.” Goals ranged from inter-tribal ownership to the creation of a new university, museum and cultural center. But the federal government wanted the island back.

“What I sensed,” Garment told the Nixon Library in 2007, “was that the administration did not want any bloodshed. That there was already a lot of trouble in the country. I mean, later on when there was Kent State, I mean, all of these problems were … quite explosive.”

But Bob Kunzig, who was the federal official responsible for the island, wanted the Coast Guard to land on the island and remove students by force.

“When I heard about that,” Garment said, “I said tell him to forget about it so there was a kind of a little bit of a battle, not a battle royal, a battle royalette, a miniature battle, because he didn’t have the standing to do anything nor did anybody want bloodshed over Alcatraz. So it turned into a very interesting symbolic issue, which worked well for the Indians and it worked well for the administration. It worked well for the processes of history because here was Alcatraz, this prison island, lump of rock, and here were these people, Indians, out on the island, and here was the federal government withholding its powerful, its armed fist, and waiting them out. And it was an interesting time, learned a lot, had a lot of people who were very angry, wanted us to provision the island and it was a way of sort of, at least for me, of striking a balance between trying to enforce the law and also not to be so heavy handed that we wind up in a mess, in a bloody mess. So that was, that was Alcatraz.”

The same parameters were in place during the BIA takeover. The Nixon White House looked for solutions, one even as unconventional as paying the occupiers to leave town, money that was supposed to be used for people to buy bus tickets home. Garment told me “we were condemned, investigations were held, hearings, but there was no bloodshed.”

Wounded Knee was different. Nixon wanted action. We know from his secret tape recordings that he wanted the White House visible. He suggested lots of meetings where officials would be “going out and finding every camera you can get your hands on to put across a foundation. It would show the White House in operation.” But if that didn’t work, the president was willing to use military force.

“I think we ought to move tanks, the whole goddamned thing. Put a division in there, if necessary,” the president said. “It’s time for action on it. If some Indians get shot, that’s too goddamned bad. If some Americans get shot, that’s too bad, too.”

Garment said the 82nd Airborne and the Marshals were ready to move in “and that would have been bloody because they did, there were weapons.” But it was a general, Volney Warner, who talked the White House down. “He just went through what would happen. The number of troops that would be used, the tear gas, the number of deaths that were likely and when he finished there was no more talk about taking them out by force.”

Of course Standing Rock is different.

And one of those ways is frightening: Instead of debating the power of the federal government, we’re already seeing the use of a private security force who do not answer to civilian authorities. Indeed one of the problems here is that the owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline cannot wait for a peaceful resolution to unfold; the partnership’s entire strategy is to build the pipeline quickly before the regulatory process can catch up. The partners want banks to know this can be done fast and without political interference, avoiding the kind of delays that killed the Keystone XL pipeline and more recently, the Sandpiper Pipeline.

Energy Transfer Partners were clear about this plan. In May, for example, a spokesperson told The Forum News Service that its “depth of experience and relationship with regulatory agencies has made the company confident enough to start construction before all permits have been granted.”

And the state of North Dakota is eager too. Statements by the governor, county officials, and the company all acknowledge that protests are protected by the First Amendment. But they also frequently use the word “lawful.” They see protest as holding a sign, not holding a line. They misunderstand the nature of civil disobedience and the long-term presence of people who are willing to disobey an unjust process and unjust laws. The key to successful civil disobedience is moral authority, not “lawful” slogans.

How much government power will be used to protect the Dakota Access Pipeline? Or will that be a private security force that uses attack dogs and more? Is the state, the company, willing to kill to enforce its outcome? And now, potentially, the National Guard. As Nixon once put it, “if some Indians get shot, that’s too goddamned bad. If some Americans get shot, that’s too bad.”

The White House has two great powers. It can shine a light on the story, the whole story. It can also convene. Bring together the Dakota Access Pipeline partners, the state, the tribes, and make sure that the outcome does not end up a bloody mess.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com