Early Signs on D.C. in the 115th Congress with Trump as President

Feb 7, 2017

By Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

President Trump’s first two weeks were not about the District of Columbia, but his chaotic beginning coincided with my amendment to remove language from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s (OGR) Authorization and Oversight Plan for the 115th Congress that appeared to signal an intention to get into D.C.’s local government operations well beyond the usual disagreements with D.C. laws.  As a member of the minority party, I knew my amendment could not pass, but it accomplished its purposes.  Notwithstanding broader language than usual in the plan, the actual committee discussion revealed no particular issues or intention to take on D.C.’s finances and operations, and OGR Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Mark Meadows and I agreed to go to lunch.  The surprise was hearing OGR Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) say he favors D.C.’s retrocession to Maryland to enable the city to get full rights.  No one ever asks what Maryland thinks of this old canard (though the Republicans who favor it are often sincere), but D.C.’s 2016 statehood referendum showed that 85% of D.C. voters want D.C. to become the 51st state.

The usual anti-home-rule bills were introduced as Congress began—the permanent ban of local D.C. funds for abortion and the elimination of the District’s gun safety laws.  Many saw these bills, which have become tradition each Congress, as menacing, although we have been able to keep them from being enacted into law for years.  What heightens concern is the presence of the new president.  Yet, even President Obama was not in these fights because we were able to keep such bills from getting to his desk.  Of course, this is a different administration and a different Congress—but Republicans controlled the House and Senate last Congress, and these dangerous anti-home-rule bills did not get enacted.

Still, the responses of residents to the OGR plan that seemed to intrude into D.C. home rule was gratifying.  Residents called Chairman Chaffetz’s office so often that he had to change his answering message.  Residents tweeted and went on social media to oppose congressional meddling with D.C.’s local affairs.  Some residents even came to the House to visit the Chairman’s office.

It is still too early to forecast whether D.C. will face the same barrage of radical proposals that we have seen for the nation from day one of the new administration.  For now, the administration is preoccupied with travel bans, cabinet votes, and border walls, and D.C. is not on its radar.

Action against the District usually begins and ends in the Congress.  That is the way it was last Congress when there were eight attempts to eliminate the District’s gun safety laws, eight attempts to repeal or block D.C. anti-discrimination laws, two attempts to repeal D.C. budget autonomy, and eight other attacks on D.C.’s local laws.  None of those attacks became law.  However, the early response of D.C. residents to a plan by a congressional committee to intrude into D.C.’s home rule showed that residents are ready to fight—and fighting can make the difference.