This was a vote on passage of legislation establishing a process by which the federal government would recognize a sovereign Native Hawaiian government. Native Hawaiians are descendants of indigenous Polynesian people who first settled the Hawaiian Islands. They are currently classified as a racial group in the eyes of the federal government rather than an entity entitled to sovereignty within the United States, such as Indian tribes (Native Americans).
Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) urged passage of the bill and criticized state government officials for failing to support it. She contended the bill "reflects a compromise between the Hawaii delegation--who I might add are also duly elected by the people of Hawaii--the State of Hawaii, the Obama administration, Indian Country, and the Native Hawaiian community. Much has been made of remarks and statements by Hawaii's Governor and Attorney General on the substitute amendment. Let me say that the Hawaii delegation took their concerns, which were first raised in December, very seriously and many of their recommendations are reflected in the Abercrombie substitute before you today. Under this bill, the Native Hawaiian governing entity will have the same inherent powers--no more, no less--as other native governments possess, namely, American Indians and Alaska Natives. Hawaiians historically have been the object of unjust and unfair treatment at the hands of our government. Why should we perpetuate such treatment?…It is disappointing that when we are on the cusp of reaching a historic milestone in the history of our State and our country, our Governor and Attorney General have withdrawn their support of this bill. But Congress can and should do the right thing by passing this bill. In spite of all of the race-based, technical, and other rhetoric you will hear against this measure, it is high time that Native Hawaiians through this bill can once again embark on a journey of historic proportions."
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) argued that to pass the bill over the objections of Hawaii's governor amounted to an attack on state sovereignty: "Governor Lingle, as I mentioned, last night formally announced her opposition to this substitute. In referring to the changes made by the substitute, the Governor said, ``I do not believe such a structure, of two completely different sets of rules--one for `governmental' activities of the Native Hawaiian governing entity and its officers and employees, and one for everyone else--makes sense for Hawaii.'' Mr. Speaker, perhaps this impasse could have been avoided if the Governor and the Attorney General had been privy to those negotiations, at least to the details where they could or could not agree….Mr. Speaker, then what will be the practical result of this substitute if it becomes law? Does it mean the native entity can construct a government building for its officers and employees in violation of State zoning laws? Does it permit the entity to discharge waste material in violation of State law? Will it prevent anyone from enforcing contracts made with the entity? Mr. Speaker, if this bill becomes law, those questions are left unanswered. And so perhaps we will learn the answers to these questions after it's too late."
The House passed the bill by a vote of 245-164. 239 Democrats and 6 Republicans voted "yea." 160 Republicans and 4 Democrats voted "nay." As a result, the House passed legislation to establish a process by which the federal government would recognize a sovereign Native Hawaiian government.