Guam in Washington, 1972-Present: The Overlooked Strategic Implications of Congressional Polarization

April 22, 2024

By Mirabai Venkatesh 


Contrary to the long-held logic that giving Guam a stronger, more autonomous voice will undermine U.S. strategic interests, failing to provide Guam with a stable pathway of interest advancement beyond Congress hinders its development and with it the federal government’s ability to achieve soft-power advantages and basic military readiness in the Indo-Pacific theater. 

Since the United States assumed responsibility for administering the territory of Guam in 1898, it has treated the prospect of Guam’s status improvement as detrimental to U.S. strategic interests. This has informed its chosen method of territorial administration, which places U.S. territories under the authority of the Department of the Interior. Each territory is then given only one formal representative in Congress, specifically the U.S. House of Representatives, but without full-voting rights. This paper will explore how Guam has managed to advance its interests in Washington since 1972, highlighting how congressional representation has become Guam’s most successful pathway of interest advancement with the federal government to date. However, the agency and success of Guam’s congressional delegates must be framed within a broader discussion of the fragility of the U.S. approach to territorial administration, which has relegated Guam to a pathway of interest advancement incredibly vulnerable to political sea change. Ultimately, this paper will illustrate how Guam’s main pathway of interest advancement in Washington is quickly narrowing at the expense of U.S. strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific.

Readers Note: This paper relies heavily on semi-structured interviews with the following: Robert A. Underwood, Guam’s non-voting delegate from 1993 to 2003; Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Guam’s non-voting delegate from 2003 to 2019; Matthew Herrmann, former chief of staff to Madeleine Bordallo; Gerry Perez, vice president of the Guam Visitors Bureau; and Michael Bevacqua, PhD, curator of the Guam Museum and former assistant professor of Chamorro Studies at the University of Guam. Detailed interview findings can be viewed in the endnotes. 



In 1898, at the outset of Guam’s political journey under U.S. administration,[1] the Pacific island territory lacked any and all control over its own self-governance (Cogan 2008, 15). In fact, according to its Indigenous Chamorro population, it was “not an exaggeration to say” that Guam’s inhabitants had “fewer permanent guarantees of liberty and property rights… than under Spanish Domination” (Cogan 2008, 20). A series of U.S. Supreme Court cases in 1901 determined that Guam would be confined to a political status both separate and unequal, “domestic in a foreign sense, foreign in a domestic sense,” in that its inhabitants of “alien races” would not be afforded the freedoms provided by the U.S. Constitution, nor be considered eligible for statehood. They would, however, be subject to all federal laws and rest their fate firmly in the hands of the U.S. Congress (Topol 2023). 

Aerial view of the island of Guam

Pacific Islands Tour: Visit of Secretary Dirk Kempthorne (and aides) to Guam, U.S. territory photographer: Tami Heilemann, Interior Staff

This marked the moment the United States officially became both a colonial and Pacific power. Where, previously, the United States had administered territories for settlement and eventual statehood, it now assumed the responsibility of administering territories it had legally deemed ineligible for this established path of political development (Harris 2017, 506-509). Where would these territories be placed in the bureaucratic infrastructure of the U.S. federal government? The United States grappled with this question in the late 1940s as it became clear that military rule was increasingly untenable from a political perspective. Luckily and unluckily, the United States had a territorial tradition it could rely on, and, like the many westward territories of the mainland United States that had come before, Guam and its counterparts were wrested from the grip of the U.S. Department of Navy, placed under the ordinance of the Department of the Interior (1950), and granted the right to elect one non-voting delegate to voice their interests in the House of Representatives (1972) (Guampedia 2023). 

Today, Guam occupies a position of heightened visibility on the world stage deriving from its strategic significance to the U.S. Indo-Pacific defense posture. Since 2006, the U.S. federal government has been advancing a massive military buildup on the island with 71 projects already underway and $11 billion USD allocated for construction over the next 5 years (Topol 2023). In comparison, only 14 projects totaling $1.1 billion USD are underway on the neighboring islands of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Northern Marianas, Wake Island, and Palau (Congressional Research Service 2023). With a 209 square mile area, Guam makes up 20 percent of the landmass of the Micronesian region, which has made it a strategic hub for trade, communications, and defense to various world powers over the past 500 years (Cogan 2008, 3). 

Global map of where Guam is situated in the world

By Sanjay Rao, Nov. 9, 2021

Indeed, Guam played a critical role in U.S. force projection during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War (Quimby 2011, 357-380). Still, the U.S. military’s plans to deploy ground-based intermediate range missiles to Guam indicates that the territory has now stepped beyond being the tip of the U.S. military’s spear (Nakamura and Moriyasu 2023). Today, Guam is the spear, the fundamental cornerstone of U.S. defense and deterrence plans in the Indo-Pacific. In the words of senior military personnel, Guam is an “essential operating base for U.S. efforts to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific,” and an “indispensable strategic hub” the importance of which is “difficult to overstate” (Congressional Research Service 2023). These factors demand that unprecedented attention be paid to the U.S. approach to territorial administration and unprecedented questions asked about whether or not this approach truly supports U.S. strategic interests. 



This paper will begin by describing the various pathways of interest advancement with the federal government that have been available to Guam in Washington since 1972. This discussion will highlight both how and why Guam’s representation in Congress has been its most effective mechanism of interest advancement to date. It will then pivot to a discussion of the institutional and political forces that have underpinned Guam’s historical success in Congress, making the case for why congressional representation is becoming an increasingly unreliable pathway of interest advancement for the territory. The final sections of the paper will then showcase how Guam’s inability to advance its interests effectively with the federal government undermines rather than advances U.S. strategic interests, challenging the dominant assumption that the two themes are in conflict and recommending a change in the way the United States approaches Guam’s positioning in the federal bureaucracy. 


Making the Case for Congress

There are several institutional pathways through which Guam has attempted to advance its interests with the U.S. federal government since 1972 including: (1) lobbying and advocacy, (2) intergovernmental councils, (3) the federal bureaucracy, and (4) legislation. This section will explore the effectiveness of each and make the case for why pathway (4), legislation, has been the most productive to date and, thus, is the most relevant to evaluating Guam’s agency under U.S. administration. 

(1) Lobbying and Advocacy

Guam’s lobbying efforts were most effective in the pre-1972 period, when the territory deployed an unofficial representative to Washington lacking any formal representation (Guampedia 2023). However, since gaining formal representation in 1972, Guam’s lobbying efforts in Washington, both formal and informal, have been limited and inconsistent. Under the governorship of Ricardo J. Bordallo (1975–1979, 1983–1987), Guam established a governor’s office in Washington from which informal lobbying activities could be launched, intended to mimic the territory’s pre-1972 efforts; however, this office was shuttered in the late 1990s due to budgetary constraints (Bordallo 2023). New hope for more productive lobbying efforts emerged in 2009 when Governor Felix P. Camacho (2003–2011) announced the re-opening of the Guam Governor’s Office in Washington. The office would be afforded a $1 million USD budget to support its director, a handful of staff, and a lobbyist (The Guam Daily Post 2009). Yet, Gerry Perez, Vice President of the Guam Visitors Bureau, noted that to his knowledge a lobbyist was never hired and these funds never fully harnessed (Perez 2023). Although Guam’s next Governor, Eddie B. Calvo (2011–2019), claimed that his appointed Washington liaison had helped to secure meetings with President Trump, Vice President Pence, and numerous other high-ranking officials, the current administration under Governor Lou Leon Guerrero has claimed that the office was largely “inactive” during his governorship (Guam Daily Post 2018). Consequently, Governor Guerrero revamped the Office upon her election in 2019 with a far smaller budget after speculation it might be closing, appointing former Non-Voting Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo as Guam’s Washington liaison (Guam Daily Post 2019).

Still, despite the recent revitalization of the governor’s office, it hardly wields much lobbying force, engaging in limited informal lobbying activities with a far greater focus on bureaucratic coordination (Bordallo 2023).[2] Perez, with extensive experience in Guam’s local government and private sector, noted that lobbying has never been a particularly useful mechanism to advance Guam’s interests, as even $1 million USD would hardly make a splash in DC. He did note, however, that Guam’s government agencies at times piggyback on the lobbying know-how of Guam’s private sector, consulting with entities like Matson and the Guam Shipyard (Perez 2023). Bordallo’s former chief of staff, Matthew Herrmann, affirmed that Guam has only engaged in limited lobbying efforts. He noted that Guam’s biggest lobbying efforts, although rare, have come from the territory’s private sector, specifically the Guam Shipyard, Guam’s Duty Free, and Guam’s Regional Medical City. According to Herrmann, all but the latter have retired from these efforts. He did observe that lobbying efforts are not seen as particularly lucrative to Guam’s private sector, as Guam is small, and large private businesses can easily contact the non-voting delegate to coordinate federal advocacy. Furthermore, lobbying by the local government is seen as unsavory by Guam’s constituents owing to a series of major scandals in the 1990s involving Republican lobbyist, now convicted felon, Jack Abramoff who notoriously defrauded several other Pacific territories and undertook a secret effort on behalf of Guam’s Superior Court to block judicial reforms being advanced in Washington by then-Delegate Robert Underwood (Herrmann 2023). 

Similar to findings on lobbying, Guam’s advocacy efforts made their strongest impact in the pre-1972 period, and have since operated at the local and international level with little presence in Washington. Where, pre-1972, Guam’s local advocacy efforts geared towards status improvement benefited greatly from the attention created by the decolonization movement,[3] critical linkages with DC-based groups,[4] and the strong backing of local leadership,[5] these advantages have since diminished (Cogan 2008, 101-102, 31, 171). Throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s local groups and government leaders continued their advocacy efforts, marking what Guam historian Michael Bevacqua describes as Guam’s “commonwealth period” of advocacy. Seeing status improvements take shape for Guam’s neighboring islands, this period saw the emergence of grassroots Indigenous rights groups on Guam, as well as coordination among local leadership in favor of status improvement. However, the lack of linkage to Washington and the decreasing visibility of the territory’s postcolonial struggle led the commonwealth period of advocacy to be marked by little change (Bevacqua 2023). 

At the turn of the century, Guam’s advocacy movement faced a further setback, losing the coordination with local leadership that had largely driven its past efforts, successful and unsuccessful. Under the governorship of Joseph Ada (1987–1995), Guam consistently reminded the federal government of its desire for status improvement (Bevacqua 2023).[6] However, subsequent governorships of Carl Gutierrez (1995–2003) and Felix Camacho (2003–2011) would largely abandon the practice of consistent, government-led advocacy (Quimby 2011).[7] Thus, Guam’s advocacy efforts were relegated primarily to the grassroots level between 1995 and 2011. This marked the beginning of what Bevacqua describes as the “international period” of Guam-based advocacy, wherein the self-determination movement turned its attention to the UN (Bevacqua 2023). With the renewed support of Guam’s two most recent Governors Eddie Calvo (2011–2019) and Lou Leon Guerrero (2019–present), Guam’s internationally focused advocacy efforts have made significant strides. In 2017, the UN’s Fourth Committee on decolonization issued its strongest resolution to date affirming Guam’s right to self-determination, and in 2021 three UN Special Rapporteurs sent a letter to the U.S. federal government expressing serious concern over U.S. military buildup on Guam and concerns that the government had not “supported self-determination for the Chamorro people.” Subsequently, in 2023, the UN Human Rights Committee considered the U.S. territories in its regularly scheduled human rights review for the first time (Borja 2017; UN Special Rapporteurs 2021; Manglona 2023). Still, Bevacqua noted that one of the biggest challenges facing Guam’s advocacy efforts remains their lack of a DC presence, and that the movement is particularly vulnerable to local leadership changes and external shocks such as natural disasters and pandemics (Bevacqua 2023). Thus, advocacy cannot be considered a stable channel for Guam’s interest advancement in Washington post-1972. 

(2) Intergovernmental Councils

Intergovernmental councils (IGCs) can be important tools for subnational constituencies that do not have a strong voice at the federal level. Two main options on this front are available to Guam: the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Department of the Interior’s Interagency Group on Insular Areas (IGIA). Since the mid-1900s, Guam and the other U.S. territories have been granted participation in the NGA which can serve as an important platform through which to coordinate and communicate with federal agencies. The Guam governor’s office engaged frequently in NGA meetings which Madeleine Bordallo reports has generated positive results for Guam in terms of accessing federal funding. According to Bordallo, Guam has struggled in the past with getting the necessary information from federal agencies in order to meet funding and grant deadlines for various federal programs, but participation in the NGA allows for a more continuous flow of information (Bordallo 2023). Still, an analysis of the NGA’s meeting records from 1964 to 2015 revealed that the U.S. territories were most heavily discussed from 1964 to 1982, with the attention paid to them dropping significantly in the years since. This analysis also showed that when specific territorial matters were discussed, such as Guam’s push for commonwealth status, they were rarely revisited in subsequent meetings (Rocco 2022, 11). This is indicative of the fact that large, bottom-up IGCs like the NGA can often neglect the interests of their minority members (Rocco 2022, 12).[8] So, while the NGA may be a useful source of information on federal programs, it has not served Guam or its territorial counterparts well in terms of driving action on their unique concerns. 

The Department of the Interior’s IGIA is a newer platform available to Guam, established in 1999 by President Clinton to tackle territorial concerns that are insufficiently addressed through territorial delegates’ efforts in Congress.[9] IGIA members include the Secretary and Deputy Assistant of the Department of the Interior, in addition to other relevant executive department and agency heads, and the group convenes at least one meeting every year with territorial governors and federal officials to discuss federal policies (Rocco 2022, 14-15). However, a 2010 inspector general evaluation from the Department of the Interior concluded that the IGIA was first and foremost a “consultative and deliberative body” with insufficient resources to properly address policy issues; it stated, “Although annual IGIA reports have discussed ideas that would require Administration action to accomplish… they have contained scant policy recommendations to the President,” with “many of the same issues… raised from year to year with no accompanying policy recommendations” (Kendall 2010, 11). For example, territorial issues with the federal Medicaid program were discussed at IGIA meetings in 2010, 2016, 2017, 2019, and 2020 with no resolution (Rocco 2022, 14). Territorial delegates have raised concerns over IGIA’s effectiveness since its inception, speaking to its inefficiency in multiple House oversight hearings (Rocco 2022, 16). In sum, although the IGIA gives the Pacific territories a greater voice at the federal level, in contrast to the NGA, it offers little to no opportunity for advancing policy innovation. 

(3) The Federal Bureaucracy

There are two main departments of the federal bureaucracy involved in Guam’s administration— the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense. Starting with the former, Guam has never been afforded a great deal of agency in its relationship with the Department of the Interior. Going back to the pre-1972 period, even after gaining authority over the territory’s administration, the Department of the Interior tended to oppose every policy put forth by Guam that would increase its political independence or representation in Washington including the Guam Elected Governor Act (1968) and Guam Congressional Representation Act (1972) (Rogers 2011, 221-224). When the Nixon administration initiated a secret study to provide recommendations on Guam’s status in the early 1970s, and the subsequent Ford administration approved recommendations from the Departments of State and Defense that suggested commonwealth status, Interior neglected to inform the incoming Carter administration of the existence of the study at all (Rogers 2011, 234). Thus, Guam unwittingly undertook its own expensive efforts at commonwealth negotiations that dragged on throughout the 1980s and 90s to no avail (Rogers 2011, 234). Unsurprisingly, the Department of the Interior continued to oppose status improvement for Guam during these negotiations (Rogers 2011, 249, 259). Meanwhile, Interior frequently neglected Guam’s unique policy issues during these decades, which led to a rapid deterioration of public services in the 1990s (Rogers 2011, 272). Today, those with an intimate familiarity of Guam’s place in the federal bureaucracy note that the Department of the Interior serves Guam in a primarily operational capacity, aiming to increase its inclusion in federal programs without undertaking any significant policy innovation on the territory’s behalf (Bevacqua 2023; Herrmann 2023).[10] “Even though you may have one of five Assistant Secretaries, you're probably less than five percent of the whole portfolio,” said Underwood, who calls the Department “the house of pain” (Underwood 2023). On one level, the Department of the Interior has proved unresponsive to Guam’s calls for status improvement. On another level, any hope for energetic interest advancement through Interior is quelled by the Department’s lack of strength within the federal bureaucracy which has led to budget cuts and policy reformulations that have hurt Guam (Underwood 2023).[11] 

There does exist a much stronger department of the federal government that wields significant influence over Guam— the Department of Defense. Although the Department of the Defense no longer assumes direct administrative responsibility for Guam, it continues to play a critical role in ensuring that resources flow to the territory (Bevacqua 2023).[12] Unfortunately, this does not make it any more effective than the Department of the Interior as a conduit for Guam’s interest advancement. Importantly, the Department of the Defense has no mandate to prioritize anything other than defense and security, which means that it is primarily responsive to Guam’s interests only where they complement its plans for the U.S. security posture. This not only means that the Department of the Defense’s treatment of Guam tends to be insensitive to the territory’s social, environmental, and economic needs, it also means that the attention the Department of the Defense pays to Guam has been inconsistent across time (Kane 2022). In periods of peace or when the Indo-Pacific region lacks strategic salience, Guam experiences an outflow of defense resources which can seriously impact the health of its political economy. This happened after the fall of the Soviet Union when diminishing defense resources coupled with economic downturn in Southeast Asia left the island’s economy in a sudden recession (Rogers 2011, 268). This is not to mention the technical difficulties Guam’s leaders face when attempting to navigate the sprawling bureaucratic infrastructure of the Department of the Defense, whose often periodic turnover forces Guam into a cycle of persistent re-education (Perez 2023).[13] Additionally, both the Department of Defense and the Department of the Interior’s broader agendas can directly contradict Guam’s needs, especially surrounding land use,[14] putting the island’s interests in direct opposition to their federal overlords’ (Bevacqua 2023; Underwood 2023). These dynamics have rendered the federal bureaucracy an extremely limited avenue for Guam’s interest advancement in Washington thus far.

(4) Legislation

The position of territorial delegate was, first and foremost, born from the U.S. dogma of Manifest Destiny, which encouraged the conquest, acquisition, and federal integration of the former territories that now make up the 50 U.S. states. From its birth, however, territorial representation was designed to die since, until the annexation of the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American War, territories were expected to eventually ascend to statehood (Holtzman 1986, 250). Thus, prior to 1946, territorial delegates had few legislative rights within the House, and were primarily observers who could network, communicate, and lobby just short of actually legislating (Holtzman 1986, 257-258). However, the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 began the process of reform by establishing a new committee system for its special members to gain positions in the House Agriculture, Armed Services, and Public Lands Committees. Then, in 1970, an amendment introduced by the resident commissioner of Puerto Rico was adopted along with broader institutional reforms, which gave the commissioner access to positions on the full range of standing committees, a privilege extended to the delegates from DC, Guam, and the Virgin Islands in the following years (Holtzman 1986, 258-259). Reforms in the following years also granted delegates the same rights in committee as full-voting members, endowing their positions with greater legislative agency (Holtzman 1986, 261).[15] These changes meant that from the outset of Guam’s participation in the federal legislative process, its delegate wielded the same degree of power in the committee as a regular representative. 

Today, territorial delegates continue to lack some of the most fundamental tools at the disposal of full representatives. Since only one delegate is afforded to each territory, individual delegates lack the ready-made alliances enjoyed by multi-member state delegations; they also lack a counterpart in the Senate and the fundamental right to vote on the final passage of bills (Holtzman 1986, 253). Beyond these constraints, the fact that delegates are not permitted to vote for Speaker of the House further erodes their political capital, as does the fact that delegates have historically struggled to contribute to party fundraising (Underwood 2023; Herrmann 2023).[16] Nevertheless, the few scholars who have undertaken in-depth studies of territorial representation have found non-voting delegates to be effective legislators who have learned to leverage their committee positions, construct effective networks of support, and trade political capital to secure important victories for their constituencies. “In the committee system of the House, the contemporary territorial representatives… have become legislators in the full sense of that word,” concluded Abraham Holtzman in his seminal 1986 study of territorial representation in Congress. Similarly, Lewallen and Sparrow, studying the issue in 2018, concluded that, “Despite not being able to vote on the House floor and despite their seemingly less attractive committee assignments—being excluded from the most powerful House committees—they appear to be just as effective as other members of Congress” (Holtzman 1986, 270; Lewallen and Sparrow 2019, 729-752). Thus, compared to the pathways of lobbying and advocacy where Guam faces challenges in power projection, or the intergovernmental and bureaucratic pathways, where top-down power structures have served to muffle Guam’s voice, the permeability of Congress to minority interests has made it the most productive channel for Guam’s interest advancement in Washington to date. 

Even so, Guam’s success in Congress cannot be solely attributed to the institution’s permeability; rather, it must be attributed to the territory’s non-voting delegates, who each devised their own approach to leveraging the legislative branch's unique institutional dynamics in Guam’s favor. Since the passage of the Congressional Representation Act in 1972, Guam’s interests have been championed by six non-voting delegates in the House of Representatives— Antonio “Tony” B. Won Pat (Democrat, 1973–1985), Vicente “Ben” Garrido Blaz (Republican, 1985–1993), Robert A. Underwood (Democrat, 1993–2003), Madeleine Z. Bordallo (Democrat, 2003–2019), Michael San Nicolas (Democrat, 2019–2023), and James Moylan (Republican, 2023–). The remainder of this section will chart their strategies as thoroughly as possible, with the aim of identifying how these delegates made pathway (4), legislation, the most productive of those identified.

Some of the key strategies Guam’s delegates have harnessed to achieve success to date have included leveraging the congressional committee, building alliances, utilizing procedural know-how, and educating at every opportunity. The congressional committee is the place from where delegates do most of their legislative work given their lack of full voting powers on the House floor, and Guam’s delegates have consistently occupied positions on the House Armed Services and Resources Committees since 1972 (Herrmann 2023).[17] Resourceful delegates have learned to leverage these committee positions, threatening to endanger important annual defense bills,[18] bartering with lobbyists,[19] and slipping beneficial measures into large bills in order to achieve legislative victories (Herrmann 2023; Office of the Historian 2018, 369; Underwood 2023).[20] Without full voting powers, alliance building has also been critical, as delegates need a strong and supportive bipartisan network in order to ensure Guam-related measures pass floor votes.[21] From finding a powerful champions among their fellow representatives[22] to hosting parties,[23] Guam’s most successful delegates have pursued unique strategies to sidestep partisan power struggles and build a support system among their colleagues (Rogers 2011, 226-227, 236-240; Bordallo 2023; Hermann 2023). Additionally, there are unique challenges that delegates face as they seek to advance Guam-specific legislation, such as the power of multiple referral held by House Speakers. While multiple referral can be a death sentence for any bill introduced by any representative, Guam-specific legislation is particularly prone to being referred to multiple committees since even a simple land-use bill will incur legal and strategic questions given the territory’s ambiguous status and military value; compounding this is the fact that representatives in other committees are likely poorly educated on the complexities of Guam-related issues, making multiple referral particularly dangerous since bills get referred to committees on which Guam’s delegates do not sit (Underwood 2023).[24] To sidestep this and other unique technical issues in the legislative process, successful delegates have employed staff with extensive procedural expertise[25] or devised their own strategies such as drafting extremely narrow legislation (Bordallo 2023; Herrmann 2023; Underwood 2023; Deering and Smith 1997, 189).[26] Meanwhile, one of the greatest challenges Guam’s delegates face in their legislative journeys is the resounding lack of awareness that pervades the halls of Congress, executive branch, and the entire United States mainland when it comes to territorial issues (Bordallo 2023; Herrmann 2023; Sparrow 2017, 492-496; Immerwahr 2016, 373-391; Topol 2023).[27] Thus, education is an incredibly important part of the job, with successful delegates advancing different strategies on this front including impactful storytelling on the floor,[28] carefully tailored educational campaigns,[29] vigorous participation in caucuses (Underwood 2023; Herrmann 2023).[30] Without much external political pressure, Guam-related legislation can take years, even decades to become law, and it is only through the distinct agency exhibited by Guam’s delegates that the territory has managed to achieve the victories that underpin its current position. 


Making the Case Against Congress: The Partisanship Problem

While Guam’s delegates have succeeded on many fronts, their agency in Congress has not been stable across time. At times Guam’s delegate has not exhibited the qualities necessary for success under the novel institutional constraints described in the previous section. A recent example can be found in the tenure of the Honorable Michael San Nicolas, Guam’s delegate to Congress from 2019 to 2023, who only achieved one significant legislative victory for Guam ( San Nicolas entered office at a disadvantage compared to his predecessor, Bordallo, who had accumulated influential seniority by the time of her departure. Thus, it would not have been surprising for him to struggle to make significant progress in his first two terms. However, San Nicolas failed to set himself up for success, abandoning an important position on the House Armed Services Committee,[31] failing to cooperate productively with other branches of Guam’s interest advancement,[32] and allowing himself to become tainted by partisan politics (Kerrigan 2019; Partido 2021).[33] Notably, according to Herrmann, San Nicolas also maintained only one staff member, and public records show that he had a very poor attendance record during his time in Congress (Herrmann 2023; Kuam News, 2020). This suggests that he also failed to uphold the sense of personal agency and energetic participation that had allowed other delegates to seize on rare moments of opportunity and build strong personal connections. 

Meanwhile, Guam’s current non-voting delegate, the Honorable James Moylan, who assumed office in 2023, faces different, external hurdles that may inhibit his success. Although Moylan exhibits the personal qualities critical to his success as a delegate and has approached his position with positivity and agency, rising partisanship in the house threatens his ability to build bipartisan networks and advance the educational efforts critical to ensuring that Guam’s needs are met by the legislative process (Underwood 2023; Herrmann 2023).[34] The following sections will describe the institutional reforms and political headwinds that have reshaped the function of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1972, highlighting how both the unpredictability of delegates and the broader U.S. political climate puts Guam’s most productive pathway of interest advancement at risk of seriously narrowing, if not functionally disappearing. This will provide context for the later argument that the United States. must reconsider its current method of territorial administration and provide a more stable pathway of interest advancement to the territory at the heart of its Indo-Pacific Defense strategy, combating the long-held assumption that greater territorial agency undermines U.S. strategic objectives. 

Partisanship & Delegate Success

A wave of institutional reforms took place in the House during the 1970s, spurred by the desire of a new wave of liberal Democrats to wrest control of the legislative agenda from highly powerful Southern Democratic Committee Chairs (Deering and Smith 1997). This effort began decades earlier with the 1946 La Follette-Monroney Act, which amplified the independence of committees vis-á-vis outdated party leadership, and continued with the Legislative Reform Act of 1970 and subsequent procedural changes that greatly increased the power and autonomy of House subcommittees and liberal Northern Democrats (Deering and Smith 1997, 31, 42-43). As a whole, this wave of reform directly granted territorial delegates greater powers in the House, finally endowing them with the ability to legislate from committee despite not having full voting powers on the House floor (Holtzman 1986, 249-273). It also reshaped the structure of the institution in a way that would benefit the unequal position of the territorial delegate. The shift in power from conservative Southern Democrats to liberal Northern Democrats gave tremendous influence to those who would become natural allies of the territorial delegates, including Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.) who was a powerful ally of Delegate Antonio “Tony” B. Won Pat and described by Republicans as the “godfather of the territories”(Deering and Smith 1997, 111).[35] Meanwhile, the greater autonomy of subcommittees increased the efficacy of non-voting delegates’ bipartisanship and constituency-focused efforts, diminishing pressure to conform to party agendas (Deering and Smith 1997, 42-43).[36] Additionally, as these reforms strengthened and expanded the number of House subcommittees, at the same time eroding the normative seniority system. delegates were thus given new opportunities to ascend to influential positions which augmented their ability to accrue political capital for their initiatives (Deering and Smith 1997, 98-99).[37] Overall, in the decades leading up to the 1980s and 90s, partisanship worked in Guam’s favor, driving forward institutional reforms that directly augmented the power of its delegate. 

Partisanship & Structural Change

Unfortunately, the symbiotic relationship between partisanship and the territorial delegate did not last. Beginning in the 1990s and continuing to the present day, the process of power decentralization in the House of Representatives has reversed with political parties regaining a stronger degree of control at the expense of the autonomy of the subcommittee. Liberal House Democrats lost the ability to block reform efforts after the 1994 midterm elections, which shifted House leadership back to Republicans (Deering and Smith 1997, 46-47). The new Republican majority subsequently adopted sweeping rule changes, greatly reducing the number of subcommittee seats, imposing term limits on committee and subcommittee chairs, restricting the number of committees and subcommittees on which members could serve, and handing greater power to the House Speaker (Deering and Smith 1997, 48). These reforms were a product of the increasing party cohesion and the “cutback politics” of the 1980s, which fueled rising partisanship, blame avoidance, and a willingness to tolerate strong leaders in the House (Deering and Smith 1997, 184). Thus, rules and procedures became increasingly weaponized as polarization began its incline, and power was gradually transferred away from the subcommittee and back to party leadership.

These changes have negatively impacted Guam’s non-voting delegates. During the so-called “Gingrich Revolution” that occurred in the mid-1990s, Guam and the other U.S. territories became increasingly embroiled in the partisan tug-of-war on matters of procedure. In the 93rd Congress, non-voting delegates had been granted the right to a symbolic vote in the Committee of the Whole, but this right was promptly rescinded during the wave of rule changes that occurred the following session, with Republicans going as far as to challenge the constitutionality of this rule in court (Congressional Research Service 2022). Consequently, just a few days after being sworn into office, Robert Underwood would be subpoenaed by Republicans and face constant attacks in the years that followed as delegate rights moved into the partisan arena. According to Underwood, Republicans enacted numerous informal rule changes that disadvantaged the delegates, including eliminating proxy voting and enacting a provision that would count delegates toward party ratios in committees. The latter change would mean that delegates would have to compete with full-voting members for a share of party seats, putting them at a disadvantage as members who could not vote for House Speaker and therefore had few sources of partisan political capital. In response, Democrats proposed that delegates be restricted to one committee assignment, which Underwood promptly shut down in the Democratic Study Group (Underwood 2023).[38] Similar partisan push and pull would continue to affect the delegates, with the right to vote in the Committee of the Whole, entirely symbolic, being regained and rescinded multiple times throughout the 2000s (Congressional Research Service 2022). Meanwhile, the broader rule changes that did not directly pertain to delegates additionally inhibited their agency, forcing them to more strictly toe the party line and reducing the autonomy of subcommittees from which they had historically derived a great deal of legislative power (Herrmann 2023).[39]

Partisanship & Cultural Change

Beyond rule changes, the overarching upward trend in polarization since the 1990s has further disadvantaged Guam’s non-voting delegates, diminishing the power of the Resources Committee, inhibiting their ability to build bipartisan networks, amplifying the awareness issue, and endangering the reliability of the delegate as Guam’s primary champion in Washington. On the first point, Herrmann described how, of all the House committees, the Resources Committee has been particularly handicapped by partisan gridlock in recent years (Herrmann 2023). This has led to the demise of big land bills and territorial omnibus legislation through which Guam was formerly able to address persistent land-use issues and expand access to funding across multiple federal programs at once, leaving progress fragmented (Underwood 2023).[40] Furthermore, the overall lack of productivity caused by the committees’ partisanship has effectively nullified the efficacy of one of Guam’s two main committee positions (Herrmann 2023).[41] To the second point, Underwood, Bordallo, and Herrmann all noted that polarization inhibits the ability of Guam’s non-voting delegate to form the bipartisan alliances essential to advancing Guam’s agenda in Congress, expressing concern that partisan divides will hurt current Delegate Moylan’s ability to build support and awareness for Guam’s interests as he faces pressure to reduce communication with Democrats and position himself against the Biden administration (Bordallo 2023; Underwood 2023; Herrmann 2023). Furthermore, rising partisanship not only constrains delegates’ ability to form crucial networks, but reinforces other representatives’ unwillingness to expend political capital on Guam’s behalf (Underwood 2023).[42] These dynamics compound the awareness issue already facing Guam, as its delegates lose opportunities to educate their fellow representatives and Guam-related issues are far more prone to being wrapped up in partisan battles over national policy (Herrmann 2023).[43] Meanwhile, mainland polarization is beginning to affect Guam’s local politics, which are taking on an increasingly “partisan bent,” according to Herrmann (Herrmann 2023). So, just as it is of crucial importance that Guam elect personable, and strategic delegates capable of navigating a highly polarized political atmosphere, local political conditions on Guam increase the possibility that uncooperative or overly-partisan newcomers ascend to this critical position. Proof of this rests with the example of San Nicolas, whose election marked a significant diversion from what had been a consistent trend of the election of Guam political elite to fulfill the pivotal position of territorial delegate. 


Strategic Implications

 Aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, Royal Australian air forces, Japan Air Self-Defense Force, and regional allies and partners, participate in a close formation taxi, known as an Elephant Walk, during Exercise Cope North at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Feb. 5 2022. Cope North allows U.S. and allied forces to practice humanitarian aid and relief efforts in preparation for natural disasters

Aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, Royal Australian air forces, Japan Air Self-Defense Force, and regional allies and partners, participate in a close formation taxi, known as an Elephant Walk, during Exercise Cope North at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Feb. 5 2022. Cope North allows U.S. and allied forces to practice humanitarian aid and relief efforts in preparation for natural disasters. Photo by: Air Force Staff. Sgt. Aubree Owens

The erosion of Guam’s primary pathway of interest advancement in Washington comes at a time when the territory’s strategic value has reached a crescendo. In the past century, Guam has gone from being neglected by the U.S. Navy to being its “top priority in the Indo-Pacific” (Magno 2022).Yet, there has been no discussion of how Guam’s ambiguous political status might impact U.S. strategic interests. There is a persistent blind spot in U.S. territorial policy, wherein critical issues of status and development have been overlooked at the expense of U.S. strategic interests. This cost the United States during World War II, when the federal government wrote Guam off as a lost cause, only to recapture and transform it into a military bastion four years after it had already been devastated by Japanese occupation (Rogers 2011, 150).[44] Today, the United States risks making a similar mistake. The following section will discuss the strategic implications of failing to provide Guam with a stable pathway of interest advancement in Washington at this critical juncture in U.S. territorial administration. 

Incurring Reputation Costs

Although advocacy has not proved to be a useful pathway of interest advancement for Guam in Washington since 1972, the territory’s increasingly organized and professional grassroots movement has been making noise at the international level, increasing the strength of its calls for self-determination (Borja 2017; UN Special Rapporteurs 2021; Manglona 2023).[45] The growing strength of Guam’s international advocacy is largely fueled by the interaction of several trends including military buildup, perceived federal disinterest, and recent legal challenges to Guam’s plebiscite process (American Civil Liberties Union Puerto Rico, Blue Ocean Law, and Center for Constitutional Rights, 2023). Thus, the weaker that Guam’s primary pathway of interest advancement becomes, the stronger the federal government can expect its grassroots advocacy movement to grow, putting the United States at risk for reputational damage stemming from its violation of international laws pertaining to self-determination and Indigenous rights (UN Special Rapporteurs 2021).[46] Such violations may work against the United States as it engages in increasingly intense geopolitical competition with China, undermining the legitimacy of its stated aim to maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific” (Topol, 2023).[47] This could hurt U.S. relations with hopeful and current allies. In 2017, when the UN adopted its strongest resolution to date, affirming Guam’s right to self-determination, the United States was one of just eight countries that voted against it, while many U.S. allies and partners from Southeast Asia voted in favor including South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and India, in addition to important partners in the Pacific Islands region including the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Fiji (United Nations Digital Library 2017). “We support the C4 Committee’s ongoing work to engage the administrating power so as to reach a mutually beneficial and consensual outcome in the future that takes into account the complex strategic reality of the region,” Singapore testified in favor of the resolution (United Nations 2017).

Additionally, the Pacific territories have long been platforms from which the United States has showcased high-profile efforts to combat climate change, but military buildup coupled with insufficient interest advancement pathways could seriously diminish U.S. soft power on this front (Harris 2017). Military buildup is already endangering key ecosystems on the island and will lead to increased rates of pollution from hazardous waste disposal (Kane 2022). Importantly, in addition to undermining the credibility of U.S. climate commitments as a whole, environmental destruction on Guam owing to military buildup could hurt other U.S. Pacific alliances beyond its territorial possessions, as combating climate change is a central focus of Pacific Island states (China-Freely Associated States Senior Study Group 2022). This would come at a time when the United States’ Pacific allies are more valuable than ever to maintaining U.S. military strength vis-á-vis China, as will be discussed in the following section. 

Jeopardizing Pacific Alliances 

The federal bureaucracy’s blind spot when it comes to its territories not only threatens a broad notion of U.S. soft power, but represents a more specific trend of territorial mismanagement that has threatened the United States’ ability to forge and maintain crucial Pacific alliances. In 2022, the Biden administration announced the first-ever U.S. foreign policy regarding the Pacific Islands region, “The Pacific Partnership Strategy” (The White House 2022). This is largely a move to counter China’s influence in the Pacific, and to support rigorous Indo-Pacific defense plans, which treat Guam as the cornerstone, but also view its neighboring islands as the lily pads for U.S. power projection in the Indo-Pacific theater (Congressional Research Service 2022).[48] This new strategy is bold in its focus, pledging to strengthen relationships with the freely associated states (FAS) of Palau, the Republic of Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia, deploy diplomatic personnel and embassies across the Pacific, send envoys to regional forums including the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), support regional climate adaptation efforts, and expand economic opportunities (The White House 2022). Unfortunately, the key flaw in this strategy lies in its credibility. Years of U.S. abandonment and neglect have left Pacific Island states doubting U.S. commitments, as many of the Pacific Partnership Strategies’ promises continue to go unfunded; “Pacific cultures have long memories and it will take time to win Pacific countries’ trust that the U.S. strategic intent in the region is genuinely to their benefit,” asserted Mihai Sora, research fellow at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute’s Pacific Islands Program (Kine 2022). 

Meanwhile, China has been paying attention to the Pacific Islands region as well, increasing its regional engagement consistently over the past decade (China-Freely Associated States Senior Study Group 2022). This has won China two important victories in the Pacific Islands region in recent years, with Kiribati dropping its recognition of Taiwan in 2019 and forging closer ties with China and the Solomon Islands signing a defense pact with China in 2022 (Grossman 2022). Although China’s economic assistance to Pacific Island states has decreased in recent years, researchers at the Lowy Institute note that this should not “contradict recent perceptions that China has sought to ‘increase its engagement’ with Pacific Island countries,” as the great power seems to be shifting away from financing and toward security and commerce dominated strategies (Sullivan 2023). More than anything, the Pacific Island states are focused strongly on matters of climate and development, and do not want to become pawns in a larger geopolitical battle (China-Freely Associated States Senior Study Group 2022). Although the United States may be ahead of China right now in terms of Pacific partnerships, this trend could easily reverse in the future if ambitious pledges and commitments are not met, and if China succeeds in favorably adapting its Pacific Island strategy (Grossman 2022). 

Importantly, Pacific Island states are in a similar boat to Guam when attempting to advance their interests with the U.S. federal government. This is particularly true in the case of the FAS, which, owing to their former territorial status, are still forced to navigate their relationship with the United States via the Department of the Interior. This creates significant barriers for their interest advancement, as their engagement with the United States is largely defined by “a sprawling and decentralized set of bureaucratic activities,” an environment which has led to “a lack of any clear or consistent mechanism for engaging the United States on the many issues that affect them,” according to a senior study group at the United States Institute of Peace (China-Freely Associated States Senior Study Group 2022). Herrmann also commented that this positioning is not only counterproductive, but also disrespectful, as it represents the U.S. unwillingness to engage with the FAS as equals in foreign policy (Herrmann 2023). This could pose significant issues for wider U.S. diplomatic efforts in the Pacific Island region, as many states beyond the FAS, as well as Southeast Asian countries, use the health of U.S.-FAS relations as measurements of U.S. credibility (China-Freely Associated States Senior Study Group 2022).[49] Consequently, although the United States has already successfully renewed its Compacts of Free Association with two of the three FAS, its ability to follow through on promises and effectively accommodate FAS concerns will send strong signals to surrounding allies (Brunnstrom and Martina 2023). Thus, a greater federal understanding of the growing issues facing Guam’s interest advancement in Washington is increasingly pertinent to the maintenance of its good standing with weary Pacific Island and East Asian partners. 

Driving Readiness Risks

Whether or not the U.S. government harbors concerns about reputational costs that derive from Guam’s poor positioning under U.S. administration, its commitment to defense readiness is doubtlessly steadfast. However, the decline of Congress as a functional interest advancement pathway for Guam similarly imperils military buildup on the island.

On one hand, rising local pushback has postponed and forced concessions when it comes to buildup, illustrating how a neglect for local input can easily boomerang, hurting U.S. defense interests. After the announcement of plans to relocate over 8,000 marines from Okinawa to Guam were made public in 2006, there was what the New York Times described as an “unprecedented outcry” from the local community (Topol 2023). The Department of the Defense granted 90 days for community comment on the plan, which would include the dredging of 72 acres of live coral reef, the drilling of 22 additional wells into one of the island’s main aquifers, an increase in federal land use on Guam by 12 percent, and the construction of a live-fire training range atop an ancient Chamorro burial site. Thus, in the 90-day comment period, the Department of the Defense solicited a record breaking 10,000 comments, and was subsequently sued by local advocacy groups in 2011, forcing a reformulation of the plan (Topol 2023). The budding success of Guam’s grassroots opposition to military buildup prompted Lieutenant Colonel Robert A. Crisostomo to warn in 2013 that “to further delay any action to quell, or to even understand, the growing frustration of the people of Guam may indeed be too costly” for military planners in the years ahead (Crisostomo 2013). In a similar vein, a 2023 analysis of Guam’s strategic value from the Congressional Research Service advised that Congress “consider exercising oversight of land-use management on Guam in an effort to reduce tensions over this issue,” speaking to the strategic urgency of greater federal attention (Congressional Research Service 2023). 

At a more practical level, Guam’s lack of stable and sufficient pathways of interest advancement in Washington means that the island’s infrastructure capacity is far from sufficient to support planned military buildup. For example, Guam’s electric grid, wastewater management facilities, public roads, labor market, and port capacity have been deemed incapable of supporting the planned buildup on the island (United States Government Accountability Office 2009; Congressional Research Service 2023). These inadequacies stem directly from Guam’s ambiguous political status, which relegates the island to an unequal position under various federal assistance programs, wrests the right to control the island’s immigration policies in the hands of Congress, and makes inter-departmental coordination within the federal bureaucracy on issues pertaining to Guam difficult (Licanto 2020; United States Government Accountability Office 2009).[50] Thus, Guam is forced to fight for its own infrastructure funding through Congress, where the awareness issue prohibits progress on status and the growing partisanship problem constrains the territory to the passage of piece-meal measures that do not comprehensively address development needs (Herrmann 2023).[51] Resolving Guam’s growing interest advancement problem is therefore critical to ensuring the efficacy of U.S. regional defenses beyond soft power concerns.

The fast attack submarine USS Key West transits Apra Harbor as it returns to U.S. Naval Base Guam following a regularly scheduled deployment, Nov. 18, 2022. Key West conducted surveillance, training and other critical missions in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.

The fast attack submarine USS Key West transits Apra Harbor as it returns to U.S. Naval Base Guam following a regularly scheduled deployment, Nov. 18, 2022. Key West conducted surveillance, training and other critical missions in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations. Photo by Navy Lt. Eric Uhden 


Conclusion & Recommendations

Of the various pathways of interest advancement available to Guam in Washington, the only one that has proved effective to date has been Congress. The success of this pathway has been driven by self-starting delegates who have been able to innovate beyond their institutional constraints and produce real results for the territory. However, it is increasingly important that the U.S. government look past the astonishing historical successes of non-voting delegates and not take for granted Congress as a key pathway for territorial interest advancement. More so than the federal bureaucracy and intergovernmental councils, which have been consistent, if not constructive, in their approaches to territorial administration, the House of Representatives is uniquely sensitive to the ebbs and flows of the American attention span and rising partisan power struggles (Deering and Smith 1997).[52] This means that just as political forces can reinforce territorial agency in Congress, they can also diminish it. This puts Guam, which relies on Congress as its primary pathway of interest advancement, in a vulnerable position, endangering its political-economic development. It also places the United States in a vulnerable position, where it runs the risk of damaging its international reputation, losing critical allies, and, most importantly, lagging behind on military readiness in the critical Indo-Pacific theater. At the root of these issues is a persistent deficiency in U.S. territorial administration, whereby overseas territories, never intended for statehood, were placed under the control of bureaucratic departments ill-suited to respond to their development needs. Under the administration of the Department of the Interior and the informal purview of the Department of Defense, the issue of status improvement has long been approached as if it directly contradicts federal interests,[53] and Guam’s unique struggles as an unincorporated territory have been frequently overlooked (Kendall 2010).[54] This treatment disregards the reality that territorial development and U.S. strategic interests go hand-in-hand. 

Recently, a bill has been introduced in Congress by the territorial delegates that seeks to address this deficiency. H.R. 5001, the Special Advisors for the Insular Areas Act, would establish a Special Advisor for Insular Areas in each federal department to voice the interests of both the remaining U.S. territories and the FAS. The Biden administration would be well-advised to take this legislation seriously and pay great attention to the problems it seeks to resolve, if for no other reason than the protection of fundamental U.S. strategic interests. “This legislation will help ensure that each Executive department has the expertise it needs to understand those needs and make good on our responsibility to support economic and social development in the Insular Areas,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) (Hofschneider 2023). “Creating positions within each agency specifically responsible for the Insular Areas should lead to more community input in policy formulation and better coordination and communication as policies and programs are implemented,” explained Delegate Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-CNMI) (Hofschneider 2023). These statements are representative of the fact that, beyond Congress, ambiguities in political status have kept former and current U.S. territories locked out of federal policymaking, effectively tying their development to their status (Guerro 2022).[55] Yet, this is open to revision. The ability of the United States to engage more effectively in its territorial administration does not rest on a binary choice between championing self-determination and exploiting strategic value. Rather, more effective U.S. territorial administration will come from greater federal recognition of the symbiotic relationship between productive territorial interest advancement and U.S. strategic interests, the issue of status aside. 

Still, some see H.R. 5001 as limited in its potential impact, noting that without budget authority and top-down leadership, the needs of U.S. Pacific Island territories may continue to go unanswered despite the establishment of Special Advisors (Herrmann 2023).[56] Indeed, the singular most beneficial course of action the Biden administration could take is to establish an office for the former and current Pacific Island Territories in the White House, and give that office budget authority. The framework already exists, as a special White House Working Group was already established for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico (The White House 2021). “If I were there, I would create an Office of Insular Affairs within the White House, particularly somewhere within the OMB (Office of Management and Budget), and give them that authority to have a little more control over where budgets in the federal government are going for the territories,” described Herrmann, going on to recommend that Compact Impact funding and other FAS assistance be moved under the authority of the State Department (Herrmann 2023). This sentiment was recently echoed by Esther Kia’āina, former Assistant Secretary of the Insular Areas, who noted that many problems in U.S. territorial administration would be resolved if the White House’s Office of Management and Budget was required to analyze the impact of federal legislation on territories prior to its enactment as law (Hofschneider 2023). 

The federal government has demonstrated that it is opposed to considering status improvement for Guam at the present moment (Borja 2017). However, its current brand of territorial administration treats the congressional pathway of interest advancement as a given, which is far from reality, and thus positions the United States to assume unnecessary reputational and readiness costs as it looks to Guam as the cornerstone of its Indo-Pacific defense posture. If the federal government can take the necessary steps to stabilize and augment Guam’s agency in Washington, it can begin to unravel the causal relationship between status and development, avoiding fraught discussions about status for the time being, while better securing U.S. strategic interests.

*This article was edited by Michelle Zhang (Princeton University) and Anna Matilde Bassoli (Georgetown University). 

About the Author

Mirabai Venkatesh Headshot

Mirabai Venkatesh is a student at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and will complete her MA in international relations in May 2024. Mirabai has focused her studies on the military/climate nexus and postcolonial power imbalances and will attend Oxford in fall 2024 to pursue her PhD in politics and international relations. Mirabai can be reached via email at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.


[1] In 1898, Spain ceded the territories of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam to the United States as the Spanish-American war drew to a close (Cogan 2008). (Return to Note)

[2] Madeleine Bordallo described the primary functions of the office as setting up meetings between the Governor and federal officials and coordinating with federal agencies and the National Governors Association. (Return to Note)

[3] “Fortunately, in those years immediately following the war in the Pacific, democratic change was uppermost in the minds of opinion leaders throughout the world, and the power of the press was on the Guamanian’s side” (Cogan 2008). (Return to Note)

[4] Guam was greatly aided in the 1940s and 50s by its linkage to the Institute of Ethnic Affairs, led by former high-ranking Department of the Interior Officials and Indigenous rights advocates. The Institute created an information network between Washington and Guam, using direct reports from Guamanians to lobby hard on their behalf. Unfortunately, the Institute had dissolved by the 1960s due to funding constraints (Cogan 2008). (Return to Note)

[5] Guam’s assembly members played a huge role in advancing status improvements in these decades, undertaking public relations campaigns and acts of protest, passing resolutions that reaffirmed Guam’s desire for status improvement, and ensuring Guam had an informal lobbying presence on the ground in Washington (Cogan 2008). (Return to Note)

[6] According to Bevacqua, Ada would take small but significant measures to ensure Guam’s budding desire for self-determination was not forgotten, including adding to every government letterhead the inscription “Commonwealth Now.” (Return to Note)

[7] “Public interest and support for self-determination and political status negotiations waned in the first decade of the 21st century as local leaders focused federal–territorial relations on gaining incremental improvements in U.S. domestic programmes” (Quimby 2011). (Return to Note)

[8] In 2015, Lolo Moliga, Governor of American Samoa, said that she felt “lost” in NGA meetings on economic recovery, as the concerns of the U.S. states tended to diverge greatly from those of the territories (Rocco et. al. 2022). (Return to Note)

[9] The IGIA’s purpose is to communicate territorial needs to the heads of relevant federal departments and agencies, to give policy guidance on matters concerning territories, and, as of 2010, to solicit information and advice from the elected leaders of the United States’ Pacific Island territories (U.S. Department of the Interior). (Return to Note)

[10] “The Department of the Interior is a weaker element in the federal bureaucracy. It mostly just gives grants,” said Bevacqua. “God bless them, but dealing with the complexities of governing the territories, that’s just not Interior anymore,” affirmed Herrmann. (Return to Note)

[11] According to Underwood, while Puerto Rico and the Office of Indian Affairs have seen funding increases in recent years, the Office of Insular Affairs has seen its budget decrease, and Guam’s Compact Impact funding has been slashed. (Return to Note)

[12] “The Department of Defense plays the biggest role in keeping resources flowing,” said Bevacqua. (Return to Note)

[13] “Same stream, different waters,” said Perez describing continual change in the Department of Defense. (Return to Note)

[14] The Department of Defense used the power of eminent domain to seize large swaths of the island’s land during the Second World War, which was then legitimized by the Guam Organic Act, and today occupies 30 percent of the land on Guam. Meanwhile, Underwood described a period of altercation he had with the Department of the Interior over their conservationist protection of ancestral Chamorro land on the island. (Return to Note)

[15] In 1971 and 1973, equal rights to committee assignments were extended to the non-voting delegates for the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, including the ability to accrue seniority and participate in conference committees (Holtzman 1986). (Return to Note)

[16] Underwood’s inability to vote for House Speaker reduced his importance in the eyes of his democratic counterparts in the 1990s, while Herrmann noted that delegates struggled to gain exclusive committee assignments for a long time since a prerequisite for these positions is usually fundraising capacity. (Return to Note)

[17] The only delegate to not serve on these two committees was San Nicolas, who gave up his position on the House Armed Services Committee and instead sat on the House Financial Services Committee. (Return to Note)

[18] For example, Bordallo made it common knowledge in the Armed Services Committee that there would be certain provisions in each National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which were critical to Guam, and if these provisions were meddled with it would force her dissent, endangering an important annual bipartisan effort. Thus, Bordallo was able to routinely use the NDAA as a vehicle for Guam-specific legislation, even more so than her predecessors given the seniority she accumulated over the course of her 15+ years in the House. Bordallo ascended to the highest rank held by any Guam delegate during her time on the House Armed Services Committee, becoming Chair of the influential Readiness Subcommittee. (Return to Note)

[19] For example, Won Pat used his position on the Armed Services committee to attract the attention of lobbyists and special interests who were willing to barter political support (Office of the Historian 2018). (Return to Note)

[20] The NDAA passed each year by the House Armed Services Committee is a frequent vehicle for Guam-specific legislation. (Return to Note)

[21] “You cannot be a ‘partisan master blaster’ as a delegate,” stated Herrmann. “Everything you do has to have a bipartisan tinge to it,” said Underwood, comparing passing legislation as a delegate to flying a plane, stating “this plane needs a right wing and a left wing, otherwise it’s not going to fly.” (Return to Note)

[22] Won Pat formed an alliance with Representative Philip Burton (D-California), a powerful member of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, which greatly amplified his ability to pass Guam-related legislation including funding packages that would establish a US$3 million endowment and subsequent annual grants for the University of Guam, provide US$35.5 million for Guam’s Memorial Hospital and other health programs, and annual Territorial Omnibus Bills that greatly expanded Guam’s inclusion in federal programs. This alliance also strengthened Won Pat’s negotiation position, as Burton was an important force in Won Pat’s ascension to the position of Chair of the Subcommittee for the Territories (Rogers 2011). (Return to Note)

[23] Bordallo forged close friendships with Republicans and Democrats alike which helped her develop a strong network that transcended political transaction and hinged on trust and mutual respect. She would frequently throw parties, using social events as subtle information campaigns to cultivate a positive perception of Guam among her fellow House members— she knew that for those without any background on Guam, a positive memory could make the difference between support or opposition when it came to the final passage of Guam-specific bills. (Return to Note) 

[24] Most Guam-related legislation that deals with big issues like land use or status can easily fall under the jurisdiction of multiple committees due to the complexity added by Guam’s ambiguous political status. Any legislation Guam introduces that is not referred to a committee on which its delegate sits is liable to be referred to the Department of the Interior for comment, at which point it can easily be killed by those bureaucratic officials who prefer the status quo. Furthermore, if it relates to status or land-use it is also likely to be referred to the House Judiciary Committee and sent to the Pentagon for review, where lawyers are likely to advise against substantial change. (Return to Note) 

[25] Bordallo hired seasoned senior staffers with policy and procedural expertise at the outset of her tenure. Both Bordallo and Herrmann emphasized the importance of staff to her legislative success. (Return to Note)

[26] Underwood had to ensure that the Guam Excess Lands Act was as narrow as possible so as to avoid multiple referral The power of multiple referral, first authorized by legislative reforms in 1974, gives the Speaker of the House the power to refer bills to multiple committees for review before passage. Between 1975 and 1976, multiple referral was only used for 6% of bills. However, by the time of Underwood’s service, this figure had jumped to 18%. (Return to Note)

[27] An “overwhelming majority” of U.S. history textbooks omit the U.S. territories entirely, while NGO and federal government lists frequently treat Guam as external to the United States or similarly omit it. For example, Guam is listed as an entirely separate entity from the United States by the World Bank, is not included in the U.S. Development Agency Research Service poverty chart, and was omitted from almost every major national COVID map published by leading media outlets. Meanwhile, the typical “logo map” of the United States fails to account for the territories, while most discussions of Pearl Harbor forget the experiences of the Pacific territories. Madeleine Z. Bordallo (Democrat, 2003-2019) recounted examples of this awareness issue from her efforts negotiating military buildup, during which she fielded various ignorant questions, including whether Guam was liable to tip over if further military installations were constructed on the island. Herrmann similarly described how, no matter how much national attention was paid to Guam, education continued to play a major role in their legislative activities. “You have no idea how many times I got, ‘Guatemala?’,” quipped Herrmann in his interview (Sparrow 2017; Immerwahr 2016; Topol 2023). (Return to Note)

[28] Blaz harnessed his identity as a survivor of Japanese occupation during the Second World War to bring important issues to light on the House floor and increase Guam’s visibility on the national stage. An eloquent storyteller, Blaz highlighted the sacrifices of Guam’s World War II veterans and initiated efforts to drive land reform, war claims, and status change, three extremely important issues to Guam. (Return to Note)

[29] Underwood had to engage in a massive education campaign that spanned three years to advance the Guam Excess Lands Act, systematically building his fellow representatives’ understanding of the complex issue of land use on Guam. He framed the issue to Republicans as one of federal overreach, and to Democrats as one of moral imperative, gradually gaining support. Over his years of effort, the Pentagon had continually made clear its stark opposition to the bill’s passage, sending lawyers to speak to Underwood at multiple junctures, who he promptly ignored. When the bill got to the floor, the Clinton administration issued a Statement of Administrative Policy (SAP), threatening to veto the legislation if it was passed. Still, his educational efforts paid off when the Act finally passed, despite this significant executive branch opposition. (Return to Note)

[30] Underwood would have his team draft letters ahead of every important caucus meeting documenting Guam-specific issues under the purview of whichever high-ranking visitor would be in attendance, making departments aware of overlooked areas of territorial policy, which sometimes even prompted visits to Guam, providing further educational opportunities. “I would have joined the Black Caucus if they let me,” joked Underwood, who felt strongly about the importance of Congressional Caucuses to his success. His successor, Madeleine Z. Bordallo (Democrat, 2003-2018) was able to prevent a potentially destructive redistribution of resources away from Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base and bring attention to Guam’s non-military needs including matters of healthcare and education through her participation on the Air Force Caucus and Asian Pacific American Caucus. The Asian Pacific American Caucus is one of the “big three,” and often visited by numerous high-ranking officials each year. (Return to Note)

[31] San Nicolas gave up his position on the House Armed Services Committee for a position on the House Financial Services Committee, an exclusive position but not one particularly relevant to Guam’s needs. As a result, he gave up what had long been a key avenue not only for Guam’s interest advancement, but also for its interest protection, leading important funding for the construction of Guam’s new marine base to be re-appropriated to Trump’s border wall. (Return to Note)

[32] San Nicolas was combative towards the Governor’s Office, criticizing Bordallo, who had assumed the position of Guam’s Washington Liaison, fragmenting the territory’s interest advancement efforts and sacrificing an important source of expertise (Kerrigan 2019). (Return to Note)

[33] San Nicolas also failed to handle the persistent awareness issue with the diplomatic tact that had allowed Bordallo to cultivate a positive territorial image and build bipartisan friendships— when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R., Georgia) made the admittedly cringeworthy mistake of referring to Guam as a foreign country, San Nicolas marched the Guam National Guard to her office to deliver her cookies, spurring unnecessary partisan controversy (Partido 2021). (Return to Note)

[34] Both Underwood and Herrmann expressed concerns over polarization in Congress and fears that Moylan, as a Republican, may make the critical mistake of becoming overly embroiled in partisan warfare. (Return to Note)

[35] “By the late 1970s, northern Democrats made up a much larger proportion of the party, and the political center of gravity moved in a more liberal direction in both chambers” (Deering and Smith 1997). (Return to Note)

[36] “In the House, most scholars agree that subcommittee government replaced committee government as the operative form of governance. Accommodationist party leaders expanded committees to meet members’ demands for desirable committee positions. Wary committee leaders expanded the size and number of subcommittees to accommodate members’ political and policy goals” (Deering and Smith 1997). (Return to Note)

[37] “In the 1950s only about one-third of all House majority party members had two assignments, but that number rose gradually in the 1960s and then shot upward in the early 1970s” (Deering and Smith 1997). (Return to Note)

[38] “I had to give a very impassioned speech, and I think that I embarrassed some of them into rejecting that proposal by saying, you know, what does it mean to be a Democrat? What is the point? What is the point of inclusion?” described Underwood. (Return to Note)

[39] When asked about the shift that occurred in the 1990s, Herrmann responded, “The less the leadership's involved, the more it's at a committee level, the more power I think a delegate certainly has, because at that point, passing a bill is about getting it out of committee, and they're the same as any other member,” speaking to the disadvantages of increased party power and decreased committee autonomy. (Return to Note)

[40] “Insular legislation is now worked piece-meal, but if you had an omnibus bill, you could put three or four provisions, legal changes in there,” explained Underwood. (Return to Note)

[41] “The Natural Resources committees, they're very partisan. They accomplish very little, candidly,” expressed Herrmann. (Return to Note)

[42] “No one bleeds for the territories,” in the words of Underwood. (Return to Note)

[43] Recently, an extension of Guam’s H-2B visa program for Filipino migrant workers, who are essential to military buildup on the island, became dangerously tied to a larger national debate on immigration. (Return to Note)

[44] “The failure of the American government in prewar Guam cannot… be attributed solely to the U.S. Navy. The main mission of the military was one of defense, not civil development. The real culprit in Guam’s needlessly constricted civil development was the U.S. Congress… Congress itself perpetuated ineffective colonialism on Guam and still does.” (Return to Note)

[45] In 2017, the UN’s Fourth Committee on decolonization issued its strongest resolution to date affirming Guam’s right to self-determination, and in 2021 three UN Special Rapporteurs sent a letter to the U.S. federal government expressing serious concern over U.S. military buildup on Guam and concerns that the government had not “supported self-determination for the Chamorro people.” Subsequently, in 2023, the UN Human Rights Committee considered the U.S. territories in its regularly scheduled human rights review for the first time (Borja 2017; United Nations Special Rapporteurs 2021; Manglona 2023). (Return to Note)

[46] Specifically, by failing to adequately address Guam’s status issue, the federal government violates its commitments under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both binding treaties (United Nations Special Rapporteurs 2021). (Return to Note)

[47] “All geopolitical roads in this region lead to Guam — we’re the Rome of the Pacific. We are the price of a ‘free and open Pacific,’ but Guam is not free,” said Kenneth Gofigan Kuper, a professor of political science at the University of Guam (Topol 2023). (Return to Note)

[48] “Some military leaders describe a “hub-and-spoke” strategy in which Guam is the hub that supports the U.S. military’s ability to potentially operate from more austere or temporary facilities across the region” (Congressional Research Service 2022). (Return to Note)

[49] “For U.S. treaty allies, especially those in East Asia, a deterioration in US-FAS ties could be seen as an indicator of a lack of U.S. commitment to the region. Island nations in the South Pacific also see the strength of the US-FAS relationship as a bellwether of Washington’s commitment to the Pacific Islands region as a whole” (China-Freely Associated States Senior Study Group 2022). (Return to Note)

[50] “The IGIA has made some efforts at federal collaboration; however, it will be unable to affect interagency budgets to help ensure that the realignment of military forces on Guam will be completed by the fiscal year 2014 completion date because it does not have the authority to direct other federal agencies' budget or other resource decisions” (United States Government Accountability Office 2009). (Return to Note)

[51] Herrmann testified that big bills are increasingly unpopular in today’s partisan Congress. (Return to Note)

[52] The House of Representatives is the most closely linked federal institution to the American people, with proportional representation and two-year term limits for members. It is also extremely permeable to interest groups and lobbyists. Additionally, since the House of Representatives sets its own procedural rules, the very structure of the institution can change along with its membership makeup. These themes lead to faster rates of change than other institutions (Deering and Smith 1997). (Return to Note)

[53] See section “Making the Case for Congress: (4) The Federal Bureaucracy.” (Return to Note)

[54] “The Department of the Interior is a misalignment,” stated Herrmann, with the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General noted in a 2010 report that “The Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) has limited resources and authority to accomplish major policy goals in the Insular Areas. Specifically, OIA does not have the technical expertise to directly assist the Insular Areas with numerous problem areas they face. OIA also lacks the authority to directly tackle these problems…” (Herrmann 2023; Kendall 2010). (Return to Note)

[55] “For 120 years, our people have been denied their inherent right to self-determination. Many of the challenges that Guam faces are directly affected by our lack of true democratic self-governance” (Guerrero 2022). (Return to Note)

[56] “I’m a strong believer that it all comes down to budget,” remarked Herrmann. (Return to Note)


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