Back to Results

BORDALLO, Madeleine

BORDALLO, Madeleine
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives


In 2003 Madeleine Z. Bordallo became the first woman to serve as Guam’s Delegate in the U.S. Congress. As a Delegate, Bordallo lacked many of the powers held by Representatives, and she could not vote on the House Floor. But Bordallo made up for her territory’s limited voice by legislating in committee and participating in debate. “We have to work twice as hard as any other member of Congress to make [others] understand that we are out there, that we are American citizens,” she said.1

Madeleine Bordallo was born Madeleine Zeien on May 31, 1933, in Graceville, Minnesota, to Chris, an educator, and Evelyn Zeien. As a teenager, Bordallo moved with her parents and two siblings to Guam in 1948 when the United States Navy hired her father to run a high school on the island. Located 3,500 miles west of Hawaii, Guam is known as the place “Where America’s Day Starts” and is the only U.S. territory in the eastern hemisphere.2 Bordallo graduated from Guam’s George Washington High School in 1951 and attended St. Mary’s College in Indiana before studying music at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota.3 After returning to Guam, she married Ricardo (Ricky) J. Bordallo, a businessman who served as governor of Guam from 1975 to 1979, and again from 1983 to 1987. The couple raised a daughter, Deborah.4

Madeleine Bordallo’s background in music led to a career working for Guam’s radio and television stations.5 In addition to helping run her husband’s political campaigns, Bordallo became Guam’s Democratic National Committeewoman in 1964 and held the post for over 40 years—the longest such service in the nation. In 1981 she became the first woman from the Democratic Party to win a seat in Guam’s unicameral legislature. In her five terms as a Guam senator, Bordallo advocated for the preservation of Chamorro culture and authored several laws that promoted indigenous language and art. Following the death of her husband in 1990, Bordallo ran unsuccessfully for governor of Guam but earned the distinction of being the first woman to head the Democratic ticket. In 1994 she was elected to the first of two consecutive terms as Guam’s first woman lieutenant governor, where she worked to enhance tourism on the island.6

In 2002 longtime Guam Delegate Robert A. Underwood decided to run for governor back home, and Bordallo announced her candidacy for his open seat in Congress. Because Guam was a territory, its residents lacked full access to many federal programs. Bordallo’s platform called for more grant money and a stronger military presence on the island, and she vowed to make Guam equivalent to the states in matters of federal appropriations.7 Bordallo defeated Guam senator Judith Won Pat, daughter of Guam’s first Delegate Antonio Borja Won Pat, for the Democratic nomination. In the general election, she defeated Republican Joseph Ada, who had defeated her for governor in 1990. On Election Day, Bordallo won 65 percent of the vote, or 27,081 votes in total.8 “I’m looking forward to going to Washington,” she said. “I know how important it is to tell America about Guam.”9 Bordallo ran unopposed in her next four elections.10

In the 108th Congress (2003–2005), Bordallo was assigned to three committees: Small Business; Armed Services; and Natural Resources. She left the Small Business Committee after her second term, but she kept her other two assignments for the duration of her career. Her seat on the Armed Services Committee allowed her to help shape legislation concerning vital military bases on Guam. And from the Natural Resources Committee, which holds jurisdiction over legislation concerning the territories, she worked to protect the political interests of her constituents.

In the House, Bordallo focused on committee work because she did not have a vote on the floor. When she was first elected, former Delegate Ben Garrido Blaz advised her that she would “be a Member of Congress but not one of its true Members.”11 Bordallo equated her legislative powers to “building a home.” She could draft and submit legislation, and participate in markups and debate, but could not vote on final passage. “You can put it all together, then you just can’t put the roof on,” she said.12 As a workaround, Bordallo formed partnerships with Members from both parties. “Being from a territory, you have to learn to be nonpartisan,” she declared.13

As an unincorporated United States territory, Guam’s basic rights, including citizenship and limited self-governance, must be provided through legislation. One of Bordallo’s main legislative priorities was to minimize disparities between Guamanians and mainlanders when it came to government services and political standing.14 In 2003, for instance, she worked to grant Guam and other territories the same access the states had to the federal Loan Guarantee Program, which financed schools, public housing, and community centers.15 Bordallo also worked with fellow Delegates Donna Christensen of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Eni F. H. Faleomavaega of American Samoa to reduce disparities in health care services. In 2005 the three lawmakers secured increased Medicaid funding for the territories.16

For decades, every one of Bordallo’s predecessors sought commonwealth status for Guam in order to provide the island with a greater level of political autonomy. In 2010 Bordallo’s bill calling on the Secretary of the Interior to help the government of Guam develop programs to educate residents about options for the territory’s future— including free association, statehood, and independence— became law.17

Starting in 1986, Guam and the nearby island nations of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands had been under a Compact of Free Association with the United States. These Freely Associated States (FAS) retain their sovereignty but allow the United States to build military bases on their land. In exchange, FAS states receive U.S. military protection and their citizens can live and work anywhere in the United States. Under the agreement, the federal government must reimburse its Pacific territories and the state of Hawaii for the increased demand that FAS citizens place on education and social services.18 In the House, Bordallo consistently raised concerns that the federal government was failing to properly compensate Guam.19 With the help of Hawaii Senator Daniel Ken Inouye, she inserted provisions into the Compact of Free Association Amendments of 2003 that provided $30 million for the Pacific territories and Hawaii, and authorized the write-off of over $150 million in debt owed to the federal government by Guam. The joint resolution passed with her amendments.20 Bordallo continued to work on the issue for the remainder of her career.21

From her seat on the Armed Services Committee, Bordallo worked to protect Guam’s military bases. Every year, she participated in committee hearings and markups on the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which directed millions of dollars towards military construction and infrastructure development on Guam. Starting in 2011, Guam took on its greater strategic importance when President Barack Obama announced the military’s “Pivot to the Pacific” in order to strengthen relationships with allies in Asia and limit the influence of China.22 As the westernmost part of the United States, Guam is called the “tip of the spear” of America’s defense capabilities in the Pacific. “All I have to say is location, location, location,” Bordallo pointed out to the Armed Services Committee.23

Bordallo also worked to ensure that the military buildup on Guam helped her constituents. A 2005 transportation bill included Bordallo’s provision to designate all of Guam as a Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) zone, which would help local businesses secure government contracts.24 Additionally, Bordallo inserted a provision in the 2019 NDAA which required the military to gradually occupy less land on Guam.25

At times, Bordallo’s pro-military stance ran up against opposition back home.26 In 2014 she introduced a measure which would have cordoned off a wildlife refuge to accommodate a military firing range. Bordallo argued the firing range was necessary as the Marine Corps shifted thousands of personnel from Okinawa to Guam. The Chamorro community, however, considered the area a site of significant historic and cultural value, and opposed the bill.27 Bordallo eventually placed the legislation on hold but continued to advocate for the live-fire range.28 After several public meetings, Bordallo submitted a revised bill requiring the Navy to find ways to maintain a level of public access to the wildlife area.29 The firing range bill became law as part of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act.30

From the Natural Resources Committee, Bordallo championed environmental protection measures in the Pacific. During her first term, she sought legislation to curb the effects of the brown tree snake, an invasive species found on many Pacific islands. “The brown tree snake has negatively impacted Guam’s ecosystem, wreaked havoc on our infrastructure and economy, and continues to be a risk to our health and safety,” Bordallo declared. In 2004, after working closely with Members of the Hawaii delegation, her bill providing federal funding to help eradicate the snake became law.31

When Democrats captured the House majority in the 110th Congress (2007–2009), Bordallo became chair of the Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans. In the next Congress, she chaired the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife, which allowed her to wield significant influence over legislation concerning Guam. As chair, Bordallo inserted a provision in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 creating a federal program to map coastlines in the United States, providing data for conservation and research purposes.32

Bordallo also used her subcommittee power to fight against shark finning, in which commercial fishers cut off shark fins and discard the shark’s body back into the ocean; without fins, sharks cannot move and soon die. The practice was made illegal by the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000, but loopholes allowed U.S. ships to continue transporting shark fins. Less than a month after the workaround was discovered in 2008, Bordallo introduced the Shark Conservation Act to strengthen the law by forbidding American ships from transporting shark fins under any circumstance. Her bill, reintroduced in the 111th Congress (2009–2011), was signed into law in 2011.33 To further reduce harmful fishing practices, Bordallo passed the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015 providing the Coast Guard with resources to investigate illegal fishing operations.34

Perhaps Bordallo’s most significant legislative achievement was the passage of her measure authorizing reparations to the survivors and descendants of the victims of the brutal Japanese military occupation of Guam during World War II. Establishing a commission to study the occupation and seek ways to compensate victims had long been a hope for Guam’s Delegates in the House. Bordallo introduced her Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act during her second term, which set aside $200 million dollars for the island’s victims. The Committee on Resources reported the bill favorably, but the measure never received floor consideration.35 In 2010 Bordallo offered her bill as an amendment to the NDAA. At one point, Senate negotiators offered to keep Bordallo’s measure only if the war claims were restricted. But Bordallo refused to accept tightened eligibility requirements. “I did not accept the offer … because it would not recognize all of those who endured Guam’s occupation,” she said.36

Despite pressure to accept the limited deal back home, Bordallo continued to fight for reparations for both survivors and heirs. Leveraging her position on the Armed Services Committee, she requested a full hearing in late 2009 during which Tom Barcinas, a survivor of the Japanese occupation, testified about his experience during the war and argued in favor of providing reparations to the descendants of survivors.37 But Bordallo was racing the clock. “What pained me most was that with each passing year, there were fewer and fewer survivors,” she reflected. Barcinas passed away in 2011.38

In 2016 Bordallo offered her war claims bill as an amendment to the 2017 NDAA. The bill required the U.S. government to officially recognize the loyalty and courage of Guamanian people during World War II and pay between $10,000 and $25,000 to each claimant. This time, Bordallo compromised and excluded the heirs of war survivors from the legislation. On December 8, 2016, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the bombing of Guam and the start of Japanese occupation in 1941, Bordallo’s war claims measure passed. It was signed into law two weeks later.39 “Guam’s greatest generation will finally receive the recognition they so justly deserve,” she announced.40

In 2017 Guam senator Michael San Nicolas announced he would challenge Bordallo for her seat in Congress.41 The Office of Congressional Ethics had opened an investigation into accusations that Bordallo had rented her house in Guam to the Japanese government for use as a consulate, violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which prohibits public officials from receiving money from foreign governments. Bordallo was also investigated for receiving more than 600 free nights at a beachfront hotel owned by her sister.42 On August 25, 2018, San Nicolas defeated Bordallo in the Democratic primary with 51 percent of the vote.43

After leaving office, Bordallo remained in Washington to advocate on behalf of Guam’s government before federal officials.44


1Paul C. Barton, “Bordallo Feels Frustrations of Territorial Representatives,” 24 June 2011, Gannett News Service; Politics in America, 2004 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2003): 1128.

2“Full Biography,” official website of Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo, archived 16 October 2012,; Politics in America, 2004: 1128.

3Many sources list Bordallo as having graduated from St. Catherine’s College with an AA, including her official lieutenant governor profile. The Pacific Daily News later uncovered that she did not graduate. See Steve Limtiaco, “Bordallo Didn’t Earn Degree,” 12 April 2008, Pacific Daily News (Hagåtña, GU): A1.

4“Full Biography.”

5“Full Biography.”

6Kirstyn Leuner, “Democratic Delegation: District of Columbia/Territories,” 2000, accessed 31 March 2020, Washington Post,; “Biodata of Madeleine Z. Bordallo,” accessed 27 November 2002, (site discontinued); “Full Biography.”

7“Madeleine Bordallo,” 30 October 2002, Pacific Daily News: 11B; Scott Radway, “Candidates Duel,” 2 November 2002, Pacific Daily News: 1A.

8Mark-Alexander Pieper, “Delegate Hopefuls Speak Out,” 22 August 2002, Pacific Daily News: 1A; “2018 Election Comparative Analysis Report,” 26 June 2019, Guam Election Commission: 61,; Almanac of American Politics, 2016 (Arlington, VA: Columbia Books & Information Services, 2015): 2042–2043.

9“Highest Vote-Getters Look Ahead,” 6 November 2002, Pacific Daily News: A2.

10“2018 Election Comparative Analysis Report.”

11Congressional Record, House, 115th Cong., 2nd sess. (19 December 2018): H10272.

12Gabrielle Russon, “House Members Who Can’t Vote Say They’re Counted Out,” 5 November 2007, Chicago Tribune: C6.

13Frank Oliveri, “Nonpartisan Style Helps Bordallo Build Strong Record In Congress,” 24 December 2003, Gannet News Service; Roxana Tiron, “With Limited Power, Guam Delegate Faces Daunting Obstacles on Marines Transfer,” 11 March 2008, The Hill,

14“Highest Vote-Getters Look Ahead.”

15“Bordallo Attends Presidential Bill Signing for S. 811: Federal Loan Guarantee Program Extended to Guam,” office of Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo, press release, 17 December 2003.

16Congressional Record, House, 108th Cong., 2nd sess. (8 September 2004): H6840; “President Signs Medicaid Increases for the Territories into Law: Guam to Receive 70% Increase,” office of Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo, press release, 8 February 2006.

17Madeleine Z. Bordallo, “Bordallo: Political Status an Important Goal,” 19 June 2016, Pacific Daily News,; To clarify the availability of existing funds for political status education in the Territory of Guam, and for other purposes, PL 111-244, 124 Stat. 2618 (2010).

18Thomas Lum, “The Marshall Islands and Micronesia: Amendments to the Compact of Free Association with the United States,” Report RL31737, 3 May 2004, Congressional Research Service: 2–8.

19Hearing before the House Committee on International Relations, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Reauthorizing the Compacts of Free Association with Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, 108th Cong., 1st sess. (2003): 51.

20“Landmark Compact Renewal Legislation Passes House,” office of Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo, press release, 28 October 2003; “US$157 Million Debt Write-Off; Governor Must Justify Debt Relief Plan,” 19 December 2003, Pacific Islands Broadcasting Association; Almanac of American Politics, 2010 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group, 2009): 1660.

21“Bordallo To Appeal Denial of Debt Relief,” 2 January 2005, Pacific Daily News: 3A; Compact Impact Relief Act, H.R. 4761, 115th Cong. (2018).

22Mark E. Manyin et al., “Pivot to the Pacific? The Obama Administration’s ‘Rebalancing’ Toward Asia,” Report R42448, 28 March 2012, Congressional Research Service.

23Oliveri, “Nonpartisan Style Helps Bordallo Build Strong Record in Congress.”

24“President Bush Signs Transportation Bill into Law,” office of Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo, press release, 10 August 2005.

25Guam Military Training and Readiness Act of 2014, H.R. 4402, 113th Cong. (2014); House Committee on Natural Resources, Guam Military Training and Readiness Act of 2014, 113th Cong., 2nd sess., H. Rept. 649 (2014); “Fiscal Year 2019 NDAA Signed into Law,” official website of Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo, press release, 13 August 2018,

26Therese Hart, “Guam Senators Rebuke Bordallo,” 25 January 2010, Marianas Variety, (link discontinued).

27“Speaker Questions Guam Delegate’s Bill on Live Firing Range,” 7 May 2014, Pacific Daily News: n.p.

28Congressional Record, House, 113th Cong, 2nd sess. (21 May 2014): H8915.

29Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno, “Firing Range Bill Changed: House Committee to Hear Bordallo’s Measure,” 21 May 2014, Pacific Daily News: A1.

30Congressional Record, House, 113th Congress, 2nd sess. (21 May 2014): H8911; Carl Levin and Howard P. ‘Buck’ McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, PL 113-291, 128 Stat. 3702 (2014).

31Brown Tree Snake Control and Eradication Act of 2004, PL 108-384, 118 Stat. 2221 (2004); “Pre-Emptive Strike Targets Snakes,” 11 November 2003, Honolulu Star-Bulletin: n.p.; Associated Press, “House Oks $104M to Stop Viper,” 29 September 2004, Honolulu Star-Bulletin: n.p.

32Therese Hart, “Obama Signs Coastal Mapping Program,” 2 April 2009, Guam Daily Post: n.p.

33Steve Waters, “Bill Would Close Loophole on Shark Finning,” 4 May 2008, Sun-Sentinel (Ft. Lauderdale, FL),; Shark Conservation Act of 2008, H.R. 5741, 110th Cong. (2008); Shark Conservation Act of 2010, PL 111-348, 124 Stat. 3668 (2011).

34Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015, PL 114-81, 129 Stat. 649 (2015); “President Obama Signs Illegal Fishing Bill into Law,” official website of Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo, press release, 9 November 2015,

35“War Claims Dropped,” 9 October 2009, Pacific Daily News: 1A; House Committee on Resources, Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act, 109th Cong., 1st sess., H. Rept. 437 (2006): 1.

36“War Claims Dropped.”

37Hearings before the House Armed Services Committee, Assessing the Guam War Claims Process, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (2009): 26–27.

38Laura Matthews, “War Survivor Barcinas Dies,” 4 April 2011, Pacific Daily News: 2; “Congressional Address 2017,” official website of Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo, press release, 19 April 2017,

39Congressional Record, House, 114th Cong., 2nd sess. (18 May 2016): H2785–2786; National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, PL 114-328, 130 Stat. 2642 (2016); “War Claims Passes,” official website of Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo, press release, 8 December 2016,

40“Congressional Address 2017.”

41John I. Borja, “Sen. Michael San Nicolas Announces Run For Congress,” 18 November 2017, Pacific Daily News, 873542001/.

42Elise Viebeck, “Guam Delegate may have Violated Emoluments Clause with Lease, Ethics Office Says,” 11 September 2017, Washington Post,

43“2018 Election Comparative Analysis Report”: 61; Gaynor D. Daleno, “Bordallo To Exit Congress After Election Loss,” 26 August 2018, Guam Daily Post,

44“Bordallo Hired as DC Liaison,” 12 January 2019, Guam Daily Post,

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

[ Top ]

Bibliography / Further Reading

"Madeleine Z. Bordallo" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

[ Top ]

Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Armed Services
  • House Committee - Natural Resources
    • Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans - Chair
    • Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife - Chair
  • House Committee - Resources
  • House Committee - Small Business
[ Top ]