Patricia A. O'Malley

Social Policy & Programs Consulting

Training and Services for agencies working toward social and economic justice

Patricia A. O'Malley
Social Policy & Programs Consulting    ~    Community Matters
P.O. Box 97803    ~    Pittsburgh, PA  15227   ~    412-310-4886    ~
Copyright Patricia A. O'Malley    ~    All rights reserved
Established 1993​​​

Non-Voting Delegates to Congress
Who are they and what do they do?
​September 24, 2019


Three treaties in 1785, 1835, and 1866 permit the Cherokee Nation to send a non-voting delegate to Washington to represent the Nation’s interests in Congress.  On August 29, 2019 – 234 years later –  the Cherokee tribal council approved Kimberly Teehee as its first delegate.

Ms. Teehee joins five other delegates

  • Amata Radewagen (R) from American Samoa
  • Gregorio Sablan (D) from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) from the District of Columbia
  • Michael F. Q. San Nicolas (D) from Guam
  • Stacey Plaskett (D) from the Virgin Islands
  • And one Resident Commissioner, Jennifer Gonzales-Colon (R), from Puerto Rico.

According to the House Clerk’s office, Congress, under the Articles of Confederation, created the delegate position in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.  Those delegates represented territories which were expected to gain statehood relatively soon. 

That’s not the case today, though there’s a strong effort to gain statehood for the District of Columbia and sporadic statehood activity for Puerto Rico.

The Constitution doesn’t mention delegates/commissioners at all.  But the Elastic Clause (Article I. Section 8. Clauses 1 and 18) permits their presence in the House.  Their status and role evolved over many years.  You can read the details in the Congressional Research Service 2015 report listed below.

Delegates serve two-year terms, just like the full House members.  Commissioners serve four-year terms.

According to the House website, “The delegates and resident commissioner possess the same powers as other members of the House, except that they may not vote when the House is meeting as the House of Representatives.”

So the Delegates/Commissioners have offices with staffs through which they provide websites and constituent services, participate (including vote) in committees and caucuses, introduce and sponsor legislation, speak to the public and the media, speak in House debates, and lobby other members of Congress to support their issues.  The only thing they can’t do is to vote for any actions on the House floor itself.

The House must vote to accept delegates, but hasn’t voted on Teehee yet.  I tried to get an idea of when that might occur.  I left voicemails and sent emails to two different Cherokee Nation public relations agents, and left a message for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  None of them bothered to reply.  So your guess is as good as mine.

An 1830 treaty also allows the Choctaw Nation to appoint a delegate.  I left a message for their public relations person but, again, no reply.

I send Ms. Teehee and her potential Choctaw counterpart my best wishes, and hope that the other Native American nations can follow suit.

Read the Constitution
Congressional Powers and the Elastic Clause
US House of Representatives
Congressional Research Service:   Delegates to the U.S. Congress: History and Current Status
Cherokee Nation:  Chief Hoskin announces the appointment of a Cherokee Nation delegate to Congress
NPR:  Cherokee Nation Names First Delegate to Congress

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