Sweeney nomination wins committee approval

Tara Sweeney has been nominated for assistant Interior secretary for Indian Affairs. Photo: ASRC

Alaskan Tara Sweeney’s nomination to be Assistant Interior Secretary for Indian Affairs cleared a U.S. Senate Committee today with no opposition – though there may still be one hang-up.

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the committee should listen to the many Alaska Native and Native American groups that wrote letters endorsing Sweeney.

“We’ve got supportive groups including NCAI (National Congress of American Indians), the United South and Eastern Tribes. Many many more,” Murkowski said. “There’s virtually no opposition from Indian Country and I think that is important.”

Sweeney was in limbo for months while the administration tried to figure out how to treat her status as a shareholder in an Alaska Native corporation. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said he’s satisfied.

“I was glad to hear Ms. Sweeney commit to recuse herself from any matters, and I quote now, ‘directly affecting or with respect to the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation,’ including oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” Udall said.

But Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said she wants more clarification about the possibility of an exception to Sweeney’s conflict-of-interest recusal.

“I will be seeking (an answer) in writing, before a Senate vote, whether she does plan to seek a waiver in the future,” Cantwell said. “I’d like her to just answer yes or no in writing.”

The Indian Affairs Committee took a voice vote to advance Sweeney’s nomination to the Senate floor. No word yet on when it will come before the full Senate.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.

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