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Fears-Turned Reality: Congress and the District of Columbia in 2023 So Far

By: Miriam Edelman

Our fears have become reality. In 2022, there was speculation that if Congressional control changed, Congress could act against the District of Columbia. After the Republicans gained the majority of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Democrats retained the majority of the U.S. Senate due to the 2022 midterm elections, expectedly, Congress intervened repeatedly in local D.C. affairs. In light of length considerations, this blog post focuses on negative, not positive, developments, such as the introduction of U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives legislation that would grant statehood to the nation’s capital.

117th Congress


Democratic control of Congress during the 117th Congress (2021-2022) resulted in defeats of anti-D.C. efforts but did not yield everything D.C. wanted. Republicans tried

to overturn education requirements for child care workers, repeal the city’s gun laws, scrap COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and prohibit the city from lowering speed limits and using traffic cameras.


D.C.’s vaccines mandates for businesses and school children were controversial and the target of Congressional bills that would overturn them. D.C. statehood legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives for the second time in U.S. history on April 22, 2021, and the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing on D.C. statehood on June 22, 2021. However, D.C. did not become a state. In March 2022, Congress kept riders preventing D.C. from commercializing marijuana and from utilizing local money to fund abortions for low-income women. In December 2022, the fiscal year 2023 District of Columbia Appropriations bills retained those two anti-D.C. parts.

U.S. Representative Andrew Clyde (R-NC) proved himself to be anti-D.C. He said he was drafting a bill repealing the Home Rule Act of 1973, exclaiming “It’s past time for Congress to repeal the District of Columbia Home Rule Act and reclaim its duty, specifically outlined in Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution, to manage the affairs of our nation’s capital.” Due to the Home Rule law, D.C. residents elect a Mayor, Council, and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners. However, the Home Rule Act maintains Congress’ control of Washington, D.C. This law stipulates that Congress review all D.C. Council-passed legislation and hold power over D.C.’s budget. Since D.C. does not have voting representation in Congress, D.C. residents (who pay taxes and fight in the U.S.’s wars) do not have control over local, national, or international issues. U.S. Representative Clyde also wanted to allow D.C. residents to carry a handgun without a permit.

In the months leading up to the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans threatened D.C. if it gained Congressional control. As U.S. Representative Michael Cloud (R-TX) said,

Allowing Mayor Bowser to treat this city as her own social experiment is unacceptable. The Constitution gives Congress full-authority over our nation’s capital. Congress allowed the D.C. government home rule to manage trash collection and other local affairs. It was never intended to put the D.C. Mayor in command. Keeping the D.C. government in check will surely be a priority of Republicans on the Oversight Committee when the gavels are in our hands.


Cloud was a member of that Oversight Committee then, but not now. Hence, he does not have control of that committee.

Expectedly, local D.C. individuals/leaders thought that Republicans’ control of at least part of Congress would endanger Washington, D.C. As U.S. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), D.C.’s sole representative in Congress, stated, “D.C. would be in special danger.” Neighborhoods United for D.C. Statehood founder Josh Burch said, “I think there is a renewed focus on the District of Columbia because we’re doing well economically and the statehood movement is stronger than ever… this is a pendulum swinging the exact opposite way.”

Change of Partisan Control of Congress


There is a history of the U.S. House of Representatives treating the District of Columbia differently after its majority changes.:

Year

Action

1993

​Soon after the 103rd Congress (which did not involve a change of Congressional control) began, U.S. Delegate Norton first gained the ability to vote on the U.S. House Floor. Republicans often forced a second vote when she and other U.S. Delegates vote so that those U.S. Delegates’ votes would never count. Republicans unsuccessfully challenged this vote in federal district and appellate courts.

1995

After Republicans gained control of both Congressional chambers from the 1994 midterm elections, they revoked these delegates’ votes.

2007

After Democrats gained control of the U.S. House from the 2006 midterm elections, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.Res. 78, which allowed the U.S. Delegates of D.C. and territories and the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico the ability “to vote in the Committee of the Whole, subject to a revote in the full House if such votes proved decisive.” The Committee of the Whole is the full U.S. House of Representatives meeting to discuss and amend bills. Thus, U.S. Delegates each had a symbolic, not real, vote.

2011

​After the Republicans gained control of the U.S. House of Representatives from the 2010 midterm elections, it stripped the delegates’ votes. Republican transition committee official Brendan Buck had said, “It’s our view, and that of the Constitution, that only Members of the House are eligible to vote in the House. In every meaningful way, the Committee of the Whole is the same as the full House, and therefore voting should be reserved for Members.”

​After the Democrats gained the majority from the 2018 midterm elections, delegates were each granted a Committee of the Whole vote again.

After the Democrats gained the majority from the 2018 midterm elections, delegates were each granted a Committee of the Whole vote again.


118th Congress So Far and Washington, D.C.

Since the Republicans gained control of the U.S. House from the 2022 midterm elections, the federal government has repeatedly acted against Washington, D.C. Congressional review of D.C. Council-passed legislation reignited calls for D.C. statehood.

U.S. House of Representatives Rules


The new U.S. House of Representatives rules for the 118th Congress contained at least two D.C. measures:

- Floor privileges of D.C.’s Mayor – These rules removed “the floor privileges of D.C.’s mayor, despite granting governors of states and 16 other categories of people – including foreign ministers – floor privileges.” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had not used these floor privileges, which would have allowed her to speak from the U.S. House Floor, in eight years. However, the rules change still attacks D.C. residents.

- Symbolic vote of delegates – It seems that those rules stripped the U.S. Delegates of their non-binding Committee of the Whole votes.

Interference with D.C. Legislation


The federal government also interfered with D.C. legislation, even overturning one D.C. Council-passed bill, during the Congressional review process. Through disapproval resolutions, Congress acted against two pieces of legislation. One D.C. bill would allow noncitizens to vote in U.S. elections (Disapproval resolution H.J. Res. 24 - Disapproving the action of the District of Columbia Council in approving the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2022), and the other D.C. bill is D.C.’s revised criminal code (Disapproval resolution H.J. Res. 26 - Disapproving the action of the District of Columbia Council in approving the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022). D.C.’s crime bill would have decreased maximum prison sentences for some crimes, including carjacking, while raising punishments for other crimes and eliminating some mandatory minimum sentences. The U.S. Senate companion D.C. criminal code resolution is S.J. Res. 6, and there are other related Congressional bills. These votes are notable because it was “the first time since 2015 the House has advanced such measures, and only the second time in three decades.”

D.C. Mayor Bowser had opposed and vetoed the crime bill (The D.C. Council overrode her veto with a 12-1 vote.). Some of this bill’s critics, including U.S. Representative Claudia Tenney (R-NY) (who wrote “This legislation was so radical that DC Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed this bill, and it was only enacted after the DC Council voted to override her veto.” as part of her explanation for her vote for that resolution) and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) (who said “What we’ve heard from the mayor of D.C. is there’s more work to be done.”), cited Bowser when opposing the bill. However, D.C. Mayor Bowser opposed Congressional attempts to overturn this legislation.

Although D.C.’s revised criminal code (RCCA) bill was criticized as being soft on crime, it has higher penalties than the fines in the laws of many states, including Republican ones. As was stated about that legislation in D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen’s Congressional testimony of March 29, 2023:

The RCCA’s proposed penalties for the following crimes – among others – were higher than the analogous crimes in states represented by the Majority on this Committee:

• Armed carjacking: the RCCA penalty was higher than in Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Ohio;

• Armed robbery: the RCCA penalty was higher than in Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Ohio; the RCCA’s penalties were the same as or similar to those of Kentucky and Pennsylvania;

• Unarmed carjacking: the RCCA penalty was higher than in Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, and Tennessee;

• Unarmed robbery: the RCCA penalty was higher than in Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Tennessee;

• Murder I: the RCCA penalty was higher than in Kentucky, Alabama, Illinois, New York, and Texas;

• Felony murder: the RCCA penalty was higher than in Kentucky and Michigan (states that have abolished felony murder);

• Voluntary manslaughter: the RCCA penalty was higher than in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania;

• Involuntary manslaughter: the RCCA penalty was higher than in Kentucky, Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania;

• Negligent homicide: the RCCA penalty was higher than in Arizona and Ohio (where it is a misdemeanor); and

• Burglary: the RCCA penalty was higher than in North Dakota.


On February 6, 2023, the White House issued the following statement against the two U.S. House resolutions about these two D.C. bills:

The Administration opposes H.J. Res. 24, Disapproving the Action of the District of Columbia Council in Approving the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2022 and H.J. Res. 26, Disapproving the Action of the District of Columbia Council in Approving the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022. For far too long, the more than 700,000 residents of Washington, D.C. have been deprived of full representation in the U.S. Congress. This taxation without representation and denial of self-governance is an affront to the democratic values on which our Nation was founded. H.J. Res. 24 and H.J. Res. 26 are both clear examples of how the District of Columbia continues to be denied true self-governance and why it deserves statehood. While we work towards making Washington, D.C. the 51st state of our Union, Congress should respect the District of Columbia’s autonomy to govern its own local affairs.


In essence, Biden gave Democrats cover to vote against the resolutions. In addition, the U.S. House Democratic leadership team reportedly told Members of Congress that Biden was prepared to veto the crime bill resolution.

On February 9, 2023, bipartisan majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives voted disapproval of these two D.C. bills. The U.S. House passed H.J. Res. 24 by a vote of 260 (including 42 Democrats and 218 Republicans) Yea, 162 (including 162 Democrats and zero Republicans) Nay, zero Present, and 12 (including eight Democrats and four Republicans) Not Voting. The U.S. Senate has not voted on its bill. The U.S. House passed H.J. Res. 26 by a vote of 250 Yea (including 31 Democrats and 219 Republicans), 173 Nay (including 173 Democrats and zero Republicans), zero Present, and 11 (including eight Democrats and three Republicans) Not Voting.




On March 2, 2023, U.S. President Joe Biden tweeted about D.C.’s crime bill

I support D.C. Statehood and home-rule – but I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the Mayor’s objections – such as lowering penalties for carjackings. If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did – I’ll sign it.


Biden gave political cover to Democratic U.S Senators to vote against that legislation even though he did not give that cover to Democratic U.S. Representatives. However, Biden’s action seemingly contradicted his Administration’s Statement of Administration Policy. Biden angered some Democrats. One U.S. Representative wrote, “The White House f***** this up royally.” Delegate Norton said,

Today has been a sad day for D.C. home rule and D.C. residents’ right to self-governance, which President Biden himself highlighted in his administration’s Statement of Administration Policy issued mere weeks ago. We had hoped that with more Senate support, we would have been able to ensure that neither disapproval resolution pending before the Senate would reach the president’s desk, but with the nationwide increase in crime, most senators do not want to be seen as supporting criminal justice reform. I will continue to do everything within my power to persuade the president that signing or failing to veto the resolution would empower the paternalistic, anti-democratic Republican opposition to the principle of local control over local affairs.


D.C.’s government fought back without success. On March 6, 2023, D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson tried to withdraw the crime bill, an action with little precedent. U.S. Senate aides said it was too late to take that action. U.S. Senator Bill Hagerty R-TN), who attempted to overturn this legislation, released the following statement about Mendelson’s action:

This desperate, made-up maneuver not only has no basis in the DC Home Rule Act, but underscores the completely unserious way the DC Council has legislated. No matter how hard they try, the Council cannot avoid accountability for passing this disastrous, dangerous DC soft-on-crime bill that will make residents and visitors less safe.


On March 8, 2023, the U.S. Senate passed the disapproval resolution of the crime bill by a vote of 81 Yea (including 33 Democrats/Independents caucusing with Democrats and 48 Republicans), 14 Nay (including 14 Democrats/Independent caucusing with Democrats and zero Republicans), one (One Democrat) Present, and four (including three Democrats and one Republicans) Not Voting. Yes Democratic U.S. Senate votes came from top Democrat U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and others. U.S. Senators voting No were from some (not all) racial-ethnic minority U.S. Senators [Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI)], Maryland’s two U.S. Senators [Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)], U.S. Senators [Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)], and others. Even U.S. Senator Hirono, who voted against that resolution, cited D.C. Mayor Bowser’s opposition to D.C. crime bill, having said “On the one hand, I really support D.C. statehood, I support D.C. home rule. On the other hand, the mayor vetoed the bill saying that it would not provide enough safety ... so I am torn.”



On March 20, 2022, U.S. President Biden signed that resolution into law. U.S. Senator Hagerty said, “I am glad President Biden has finally acknowledged that we have a violent crime problem in our nation’s capital and that Congress has a vital role in ensuring that the D.C. Council’s soft-on-crime measure does not become law.”

Coming off overturning D.C. Council-passed legislation for the first time in 31 years, Congress continued to intervene in local D.C. affairs. On March 9, 2023, the day after the U.S. Senate nullified D.C.’s crime bill, U.S. Representative Clyde introduced H.J. Res. 42, Disapproving the action of the District of Columbia Council in approving the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act of 2022 (the D.C. Council-passed bill on policing and justice reform). That committee plans to have a second oversight hearing on May 16th.

On March 29, 2023, the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Accountability Committee held the Overdue Oversight of the Capital City: Part I hearing and then a business meeting on H.J. Res. 42. Crime and policing dominated that hearing. Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY) attacked D.C, saying “D.C.’s officials have failed in their responsibility to keep safe its citizens and visitors and provide economic and educational opportunities for them.” U.S. Representatives also discussed public urination. They also refereed to D.C.’s schools as “dropout factories” and “inmate factories.” At the markup, that committee passed H.J. Res. 42 with a 21-17 vote.

On the next day, the White House announced that President Biden will veto that bill if it comes to his desk. Biden does not support every part of the D.C. policing bill, but as the White House said, he

will not support congressional Republicans’ efforts to overturn commonsense police reforms such as: banning chokeholds; limiting use of force and deadly force; requiring the timely release of body-worn camera footage; and requiring officer training on de-escalation and use of force.


Current Status of D.C.-Council Passed Bills that Congress Disapproves Of (Note – Congress did not use the same process for these three bills.)

Actual D.C. Council Bill

Resolution Number

Subject

Current Status

Local Resident Voting Rights Act of 2021 (B23-0300)

H.J. Res. 24

Non-citizens voting

B23-0300 became law (L24-0242 Effective from Feb 23, 2023)

Revised Criminal Code Act of 2021 (B24-0416)

H.J. Res. 26

Crime

B24-0416 will not become law

H.J. Res. 42

Police

B24-0320 is currently under review by Congress

Congressional review has spurred desires for D.C. to become a state. As U.S. Delegate Norton said after the Senate voted against D.C.’s crime bill,

even if President Biden signs the resolution and denies D.C. residents the very self-governance that he has claimed to support, this chapter of D.C.’s continuing fight for autonomy is, in itself, a powerful argument for the full rights that can only be provided by D.C. statehood. Statehood would give the nearly 700,000 residents of the nation’s capital voting representation in Congress and full local self-government, and would ensure that Congress and the Executive Branch will never again be able to overturn local D.C. laws.


In addition, the following was included in the written Congressional testimony of D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson on March 29, 2023:

My colleagues and I on the Council oppose any effort by Congress to disapprove legislation properly adopted by the District’s elected leaders. The more than 700,000 residents of the District of Columbia elect a Council and a Mayor to make laws and manage their city. They look to us to debate the issues of the day, to compromise, and to chart a course for our city. They do not want 535 people they did not elect, who do not represent them, and who do not answer their phone calls stepping in to veto or tinker with the laws we pass. The only real solution to this problem is statehood for the District of Columbia.


Anti-D.C. Congressional Legislation


Multiple anti-D.C. bills have been introduced in Congress earlier this year. Some have cosponsors, all of whom very well might be Republicans.

There have been multiple bills about noncitizen voting and the nation’s capital. Most likely as a response to the non-citizens voting bill, U.S. Representative August Pfluger (R-TX) introduced H.R. 192, To prohibit individuals who are not citizens of the United States from voting in elections in the District of Columbia. His statement about that bill is:

If you're in the United States illegally, you don't have the right to vote—period. Liberals in Washington, D.C. who want to allow noncitizens to vote are putting the integrity of our election system at risk. My bill will put a stop to it. Americans deserve confidence in our elections and to know that only legal citizens are voting in the United States of America.


U.S. Representative Roy Chip (R-TX) introduced H.R.486 - To prohibit the government of the District of Columbia from using Federal funds to allow individuals who are not citizens of the United States to vote in any election, and for other purposes. Its companion bill is S.12 - A bill to prohibit the government of the District of Columbia from using Federal funds to allow individuals who are not citizens of the United States to vote in any election, and for other purposes, which U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced.

U.S. Representative Andy Biggs (R-AZ) introduced multiple bills that would provide for a limitation on availability of funds for District of Columbia, Federal Payment for different aspects of D.C. government for fiscal year 2024. At least some have cosponsors, all of whom very well might be Republicans. These bills include:

​Bill Number

Subject

Resident Tuition Support

Emergency Planning and Security Costs in the District of Columbia

DC Courts, DC Court of Appeals

DC Courts, Superior Court of DC

DC Courts, DC Court System

DC Courts, Capital Improvements for DC courthouse facilities

District of Columbia, Federal Payment for Defender Services in DC Courts

​Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia

District of Columbia Public Defender Service

Criminal Justice Coordinating Council

Judicial Commissions, Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure

Judicial Commissions, Judicial Nomination Commission

School Improvement

DC National Guard

Testing and Treatment of HIV/AIDS

​DC Water and Sewer Authority

The federal government funds a large amount of D.C.’s court system.

Other anti-D.C. bills have also been introduced. U.S. Representative H. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) introduced H.R. 980, the Washington, D.C. Residents Voting Act. This bill would give much of Washington, D.C., to Maryland while retaining some of the District of Columbia as the Federal District. U.S. Senator Cruz (R-TX) introduced S. 165, Let Them Learn Act bill, which “prohibits the District of Columbia (DC) from using federal or local funds to require that students in elementary or secondary schools receive a COVID-19 vaccination” and which nullifies D.C.’s school coronavirus vaccination requirements.

Other Negative Actions


U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) called to end Home Rule for Washington, D.C. He would like direct Congressional control to return.

Although U.S. President Biden's fiscal year 2024 budget includes several pro-D.C. elements and does not include the abortion rider, it still is problematic. It preserves the rider about recreational marijuana commercialization.

Conclusion


Concerned citizens should pay attention to Congressional actions about the nation’s capital. Already, there will be another oversight hearing about D.C. later this spring. What else will happen? Will Congress try to end home rule for D.C.?


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