- The Washington Times
Monday, February 6, 2023

The HouseGOP is poised to formally rebuke D.C. officials this week by voting on resolutions that reject city plans to allow illegal immigrants to vote in local elections and weaken maximum penalties for crimes like carjacking.

The pair of floor votes on disapproval resolutions, which leverage a constitutional provision allowing Congress to block city legislation, is one of the starkest signs the House has switched hands.

Democrats promoted D.C. statehood during their time in the House majority, now House Republicans are promising to flex their muscle if they think city officials are leading the nation’s capital astray. Votes to disapprove the city measures will likely unfold Thursday morning and are expected to pass, according to legislative aides.

A 1973 law expanded self-rule in the nation’s capital, allowing D.C. residents to elect a mayor and city council with legislative powers. However, Congress retains the power to block city laws during a mandatory review period. 

Some Republicans are eager to use that power, saying the nation’s capital is slipping under liberal policies.

“The framers of the Constitution, I think, got it right. The fact of the matter is they created a federal city. It is a capital city. It’s different from other countries in the world where there is no special designation,” Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland Republican, said. “Congress, I think, was very generous in passing a Home Rule Act. But I think it’s been taken advantage of. What we’ve seen is a litany of very liberal policies come out of the D.C. Council in the past decade and a half.”

Attempts to overhaul the city’s outdated criminal code, meanwhile, ran into Mayor Muriel Bowser’s veto pen but the D.C. Council overrode her decision.

“We’re actually on the side of the mayor,” Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, said at a Rules Committee meeting late Monday. “We’re seeing elevated crime rates across America in general and in the District of Columbia, in particular. It would be unconscionable to adopt policies that will put violent criminals back on the streets.”

D.C. officials chafe at any attempt by Congress to meddle in their affairs, so the mayor and the council said they would rather settle their differences in-house.

“It’s pretty rich that a House Republican Chaos Conference that cannot govern itself continues to interfere with the local decisions of the residents of the District of Columbia,” D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie, at-large Democrat, said Monday. “Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy and his colleagues should know that the American people aren’t fooled by their attempts to distract from the fact that their party has no ideas to actually help people.”

Rep. Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, said Republicans are wasting their time on efforts that have nothing to do with their own constituents.

“I don’t know about what happens in your district, but I can tell you in Worcester, Massachusetts, people aren’t talking about what happens on the D.C. city council,” he said.

The resolutions will die in the Democrat-led Senate, but House Republicans might try to attach the provisions to must-pass legislation down the road. So-called legislative riders have broken through Democratic opposition before, blocking the District’s use of local funds for abortions or plans to allow marijuana sales.

“In a divided Congress, the more likely path is the path of using appropriate use of appropriations bills and being able to restrict the ability of the D.C. government to spend money on areas where we think it’s not wise,” said Mr. Harris, who led the charge against marijuana programs in the District.

For instance, the new D.C. crime bill says misdemeanor offenses can go to a jury trial. Mr. Harris said Congress theoretically could strip money for the jury-enlistment process.

He said riders that would block illegal immigrants from voting in D.C. elections or prohibit the city from using taxpayer welfare dollars for illegal immigrants are the most likely options in this Congress.

For decades, city leaders have pushed for statehood or at least a voting member of the House to increase their autonomy and avoid strict oversight from Capitol Hill.

The Biden White House agrees. In a formal statement of policy on Monday, it said the HouseGOP resolutions were “clear examples clear examples of how the District of Columbia continues to be denied true self-governance and why it deserves statehood.”

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s non-voting member of Congress, and Democratic allies hit back at GOP lawmakers Monday with legislation that would give the D.C. mayor full control over the D.C. National Guard. They said it would put the city on par with states, where governors can call in the Guard, instead of relying on the U.S. president.

They cited delays in getting then-President Donald Trump to approve a D.C. Guard response during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

“That dangerous episode revealed the urgency of giving the mayor of the District of Columbia the same powers to deploy the D.C. National Guard to protect people in Washington, D.C., as the leaders of states and territories have to protect their residents,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat.

House Democrats passed bills in support of D.C. statehood in 2020 and 2021, but they were unable to gain sufficient support in the Senate, where filibuster rules allow the minority party to thwart legislation.

Mr. Harris said he understands that some Republicans are not that eager to wield their powers over the District. But he says the Constitution is crystal clear in granting powers to Congress, so they should use them.

“It’s not pretty because people will claim that, you know, D.C. residents have taxation without representation,” Mr. Harris said. “But everybody who lives in D.C., moved to D.C., understood that’s the way the way the Constitution set it up.”

“Some people think there are bigger fish to fry,” he added, “but I will tell you that this city should be the pride of the nation.”

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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