Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

Budget and Legislative Autonomy

Although the right to vote on the House floor in the Committee of the Whole, which Norton first won in the 103rd Congress, was approved by the federal courts, Norton proceeds without a vote to pass D.C. bills, successfully fight attacks on home rule, get D.C. rights traditionally afforded to states, expand home rule, get significant new support for D.C. statehood, and build unprecedented momentum for budget autonomy.

Keeping D.C. Running Through Fiscal Year 2014

In the agreement to end the 16-day federal government shutdown, Norton got a provision included to keep D.C. open for the rest of fiscal year 2014 at fiscal year 2014 levels while the federal government continues to run on a short-term continuing resolution until January 15, spending at 2013 levels.  Working on several fronts, Norton first convinced Republicans to pass a bill to allow the city to remain open temporarily.  When that bill was not passed by the Senate, she raised the issue with the president at a White House meeting with House Democrats.  She then negotiated with the administration, Senate Democrats and House Republicans to achieve the provision that allows D.C. to spend its local funds and remain open for the remainder of fiscal year 2014.

Unprecedented Momentum for Budget Autonomy

Progress with Republicans and Democrats this year on budget autonomy showed that 2014 could be the year for budget autonomy.  The shutdown fertilized momentum for budget autonomy, which has been building with bipartisan support from the administration and the Congress, as well as the referendum that Norton has kept Congress from disturbing.  The president, for the first time in an administration’s budget, included legislative language for budget autonomy in his fiscal year 2014 budget.  The positive trajectory rose to a new level when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the president’s budget autonomy provision.  In addition, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) got his own budget autonomy bill passed in committee.  He and Norton are working to perfect final language.  Finally, Republicans, in arguing for the Republican continuing resolution to keep D.C. open during the federal government shutdown, made strong arguments that the city should be able to spend its own money.

Laying the Groundwork for Statehood: The First D.C. Statue in the Capitol

Despite years of rebuffs by opponents of D.C. statehood, this year Norton got a bill passed that treats D.C. like the 50 states.  Her bill brought a statue to the U.S. Capitol representing the District, the only jurisdiction that is not yet a state to have a statue there, along with the 50 states.  House and Senate Republican and Democratic leadership sponsored the unveiling of D.C.’s Frederick Douglass statue, with Vice President Joe Biden and members of the Douglass family joining Norton and others to speak at the ceremony.  Reinforcing the significance for statehood, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) offered a forceful and unequivocal call for Congress to grant the District of Columbia statehood during his remarks at the ceremony.  Reid also announced that he had become a cosponsor of the Senate companion to Norton’s D.C. statehood bill, a rare act for a Majority Leader, who cosponsor few bills.  In January, Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE), chair of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which has jurisdiction over D.C., introduced the Senate counterpart to the Norton statehood bill and later promised a D.C. statehood hearing in 2014.

Attacks on D.C. Home Rule Combatted

In 2014, Norton kept the D.C. budget autonomy referendum from being wiped out, despite language in a House appropriations bill committee report questioning its legality.

After Norton kept Representative Trent Franks’ (R-AZ) post-20-week D.C. abortion ban bill from coming to the House floor, he amended the bill to instead make it apply nationwide.  Norton worked with her allies to keep the D.C. abortion ban bill, also introduced in the Senate, from going to the floor in either chamber this year.  Ironically, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), the Senate sponsor of the D.C. abortion ban bill, initially said he could not support a nationwide abortion ban bill because it would violate ‘states’ rights,’ although he later came around.  

Norton also defeated attempts to reattach riders to the D.C.’s appropriations bill.  As the fiscal year 2014 D.C. appropriations bill process began, she held a Save D.C. Home Rule press conference with Mayor Gray and national gun safety, needle exchange, and reproductive rights groups, whose issues often have been used to attack D.C. home rule.  The groups alerted members of the House and Senate that their members nationwide would be keeping close tabs on anti-home-rule amendments and bills.

As every year, Norton faced bills to eliminate all or parts of D.C.’s gun laws.   She worked with the Senate to remove from the final fiscal year 2014 Defense Authorization bill a House amendment expressing the sense of the Congress that active duty military personnel in their private capacity should be exempt from gun safety laws here, but not from such laws in any other states.  A bill to strike all of D.C.’s gun laws was reintroduced at the end of this year, during the week of the one-year anniversary of the Newtown shooting.  Norton, who called this timing an act of “insensitive disrespect,” was the only elected official to speak at the National Cathedral Vigil in remembrance of the shooting and all victims of gun violence throughout the nation.

More Equality for the District of Columbia

Norton’s Hatch Act National Capital Region Parity Act became effective, giving D.C. residents who are federal employees the right to run for partisan political office in local elections as independents, which their regional counterparts have had since the 1940s.  The bill enables a significant segment of D.C.’s population to more fully participate in the political life of the city.

In a home-rule victory for the District and its women, D.C. is now treated as a state under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  The District will now get the same amount of funding as states, at 1.5% of the total appropriated by Congress, rather than the 0.25% allotted to four of the territories.   This change maximized funding to combat the epidemic of domestic violence in D.C.

Norton got a provision included in the Senate’s farm bill that enables the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) to receive federal funding for forestry research, a victory for the equal treatment of the District.  Although UDC is the nation’s only urban public land-grant university, without this provision, its college of agriculture has not been eligible for those funds.