The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s tweet about an obscure ‘casino bill’ raises some swampy questions

CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp stands as President Trump speaks at a CPAC event in March. (J. Lawler Duggan for The Washington Post)

This post has been updated with Schlapp’s comment.

President Trump took a position Wednesday on one of the most obscure bills of his presidency. Shortly thereafter, the measure was pulled from the House floor because it lacked Republican support. And now the story behind it is causing more than a few furrowed brows.

The tweet came just before noon Wednesday.

“Republicans shouldn’t vote for H.R. 312, a special interest casino Bill, backed by Elizabeth (Pocahontas) Warren,” Trump wrote. “It is unfair and doesn’t treat Native Americans equally!”

The measure Trump is referring to would put Massachusetts land into a trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. The Interior Department last year overturned an Obama-era decision allowing for the trust, which threw a planned $1 billion casino project into doubt. But the House Natural Resources Committee recently approved the bill, and it was put on the fast track for a vote on the House floor this week, a vote that would require two-thirds of the House to support it.

Within 90 minutes of Trump’s tweet, though, the legislation was pulled. It’s not clear that this was because of the tweet. Politico reported that there was unrest within the House GOP conference about the bill Tuesday night. Although it passed overwhelmingly in committee — 26 to 10 — it did so with just three Republican votes and 10 opposed. That suggested that two-thirds was hardly assured in the House.

No matter what happened, it is extremely unusual for a president to weigh in on a bill like this. So Trump’s potential role is now raising some valid questions. The Daily Beast broke the news Wednesday afternoon that Trump’s position aligned with a lobbying client of his adviser, Matt Schlapp. Schlapp, who is married to a White House communications aide, recently began lobbying Congress and the White House. His firm’s clients include Twin River Management Group, which owns a casino in neighboring Rhode Island that could lose business to the new Massachusetts casino. Schlapp also tweeted about the bill — and also invoked Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — about an hour before Trump’s tweet.

The Daily Beast reported that Schlapp’s firm has been paid at least $30,000 for the lobbying.

Schlapp tweeted Wednesday that his wife, Mercedes Schlapp, played no role and that Trump is his own man. But he didn’t comment on whether he actually lobbied Trump.

The Washington Post has tried multiple times to get Schlapp to comment on whether he lobbied Trump, and he has yet to do so.

There are some competing explanations.

One would be that someone else concerned about the bill secured Trump’s support for their cause. Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) was reportedly among those fighting the legislation behind closed doors Tuesday night.

Another is that this is simply a reflection of Trump’s desire to deprive Warren of a win. Shortly after the Interior Department overturned the earlier decision last year, the senator and Democratic presidential candidate made the cause her own. (Warren has dealt with controversy over her past claims to Native American heritage.) Warren also invoked Trump.

“Today’s action by the Trump administration is yet another deal the federal government is reneging on with Native Americans,” she said, “and it underscores why Congress must pass our legislation: so that the Mashpee Wampanoag do not lose their home at the hands of the federal government.”

Conservative media outlets have drawn attention to the bill and to Warren’s association with it, and it’s entirely plausible that Trump simply wanted to deprive Warren of a win and/or saw an opportunity to raise one of his favorite attack lines against a potential 2020 foe.

There’s also the fact that Trump has a history on this. As The Post’s Philip Bump chronicled, Trump testified before Congress in 1993 and questioned whether the Native Americans building casinos were actually Native Americans. “They don’t look like Indians to me,” he said. “They don’t look like Indians to Indians.”

We’ll let you know if Schlapp offers any more comment.