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October 25, 2014

Posts in "DC-Hill Relations"

October 22, 2014

Former Top Cop Suggests Capitol Complex Is Too Open (Audio)

Congress’ former top cop thinks there should be major changes to security at the 276-acre Capitol complex, saying its open and accessible campus is “much to my chagrin.”

Terrance W. Gainer said in an interview he would add gates around the Capitol perimeter and consider re-routing traffic around campus. Gainer made his comments as a federal judge ordered Omar Gonzalez to undergo a mental health evaluation within the next 30 days to determine whether he is competent to stand trial on federal and local charges of infiltrating the White House on Sept. 19. The case is causing major repercussions for the Secret Service.

It also prompted Gainer, the former Senate sergeant-at-arms who also served four years as the chief of the Capitol Police, to frankly address the challenges for guarding the complex against intrusions.

“One of the challenges the chief has, or the director of the Secret Service, is keeping everybody sharp all the time,” Gainer told CQ Roll Call. “Up on Capitol Hill we have, you know, 25,000 employees and 3 million visitors so it is very open, and keeping the officers alert and active, you know, is an important challenge.”

Full story

October 20, 2014

Late-Night Terrorism Drills Test D.C. Officials

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Homeland security officials staged a shooting similar to the 2013 Navy Yard tragedy. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Police in the District of Columbia responded to a staged suicide bombing shortly after 9 p.m. Sunday, on the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center site in Northwest Washington.

“Where’s everybody going? Can you help us?” a woman shrieked from a curb near the scene of the explosion.

The actress whimpered, putting on a dramatic display for observers from the FBI and other government agencies watching one act in the District’s full-scale overnight emergency preparedness drill from a nearby hilltop.

The cop who rescued the actress rushed back up to the doorstep of the brick building, avoiding the body of another faux victim who did not survive the blast. Within minutes, a firetruck pulled up and firefighters unrolled a hose, preparing to decontaminate the area in case the improvised explosive device turned out to be a chemical bomb.

“Anybody who can walk comes this way,” instructed one of the first responders near the fire truck, after getting a rundown on casualties and injuries from an officer. So far, police had found at least seven victims in the staged terror activity, including some amputees.

The dramatic exercise was staged to test the District’s public safety capabilities. The emergency responders and actors from this scene would be followed in the next few hours by the hazardous materials team, bomb squad and other specialized teams who would be reacting to multiple terrorists attacks for the training event.

Full story

October 17, 2014

Could Nov. 4 Results Render D.C.’s Budget Autonomy Case Moot?

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Will Gray’s successor make budget autonomy suit moot? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

More than 40 years after President Richard M. Nixon signed the Home Rule Act, legal experts in the District of Columbia are fighting about what the feds intended.

Federal appeals court judges listened to more than an hour of oral arguments Friday in the case pitting the District’s executive branch against its legislative branch. It’s round two of a legal battle launched in April.

U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Patricia A. Millett pressed a politically potent question for this time of year. Will the entire suit be “moot” after Nov. 4, when the city casts ballots for a new mayor and its first elected attorney general?

If the new administration chooses to comply with the local budget autonomy law signed by Mayor Vincent Gray in February 2013, and approved by 83 percent of voters two months later, there’s “at least a possibility that what we have right now [might] no longer be what the courts call a case or controversy,” said Walter Smith, executive director of DC Appleseed.

“The court could say, ‘Well, the case is over,’ dismiss the appeal and vacate the decision,” Smith said in an interview after the arguments. As the legal architect behind the charter amendment, he supports the D.C. Council’s appeal to require Gray and Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt to comply with the law.

Budget autonomy referendum backers claim Congress provided a pathway for the District to amend the budget process via its charter. In court documents, lawyers for the D.C. Council cited House staff memos and notes from 1973 conference negotiations with the Senate to discern lawmaker’s intentions. They noted that in 1984, Congress made it easier to amend the charter.

D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan counters that Capitol Hill “put it off limits” for the council to to change its budget process. Nathan insisted the panel go “back to the merits” and uphold U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan’s May 19 ruling that the city does not have the right to spend its local revenues without seeking an annual appropriation from Congress. He wants “common sense” to prevail.

Both sides say they believe the District deserves budget autonomy, but the executive branch agrees with the House GOP and the Government Accountability Office: The city can’t cut its own purse strings.

Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser and independent candidate David Catania are both members of the D.C. Council, which voted unanimously to adopt the local budget autonomy law. Bowser, Catania and Carol Schwartz — another independent challenger for mayor and a former councilmember — have all expressed support for budget autonomy.

Paul Zukerberg, an attorney general contender, attended Friday’s arguments as a supporter of the D.C. Council. He told CQ Roll Call that, if elected, he would enforce the local budget autonomy law, but that might not be the end of the legal battle.

“There’s also a provision that would require the appointment of independent counsel for Jeff DeWitt or the mayor if they had different opinions,” Zukerberg said. “The CFO is independent so if he persisted there would still be an attorney representing him, so it wouldn’t necessarily mean the case is over.”

This hypothetical scenario is something Smith differed on. He said the CFO is still a member of the executive branch. A new attorney general’s opinion may be “binding on every District of Columbia official,” Smith said.

The appeals court has no set timeline to decide the appeal, but advocates of budget autonomy hope for a fresh start after Nov. 4.

DC Vote spokesman James Jones said he looks forward to having an elected attorney general who balances “the responsibility to uphold the law” with “viewing the people of the District as a client.”

Related:

D.C. Budget Autonomy Ruling Is Just the Beginning of Local Control Fight

D.C. Budget Autonomy Amicus Brief Takes Slap at Congress

D.C. Council to Mayor: See You in Court

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Warns Local Budget Autonomy Law Puts Home Rule at Risk

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

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October 10, 2014

Will Bowser Push Democrats on D.C. Statehood?

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(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

National Democrats parachuted into local District of Columbia politics this week to bolster D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser’s campaign to succeed Mayor Vincent Gray, but neither President Barack Obama nor Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz made any promises to use their political capital on behalf of residents’ longtime goal.

Statehood proponents see the chief executive of the District of Columbia as instrumental to building the political alliances that can give their cause some national traction. When Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., wanted to talk statehood last month, he invited Gray to be part of the first panel and speak on behalf of the city’s residents. Gray gets to hobnob with the governors of Maryland and Virginia, the region’s congressional delegation and occasional administration officials, and the activists expect him to be on message.

“The role of the mayor is so important,” Kimberly Perry, executive director of DC Vote, said in a phone interview. Her organization has pressed this year’s mayoral candidates for their strategies for working with Congress and the president. “It’s so important at every opportunity that they get, whether they think it’s practical or not, they have got to raise the issues of D.C. autonomy,” Perry said. Full story

October 9, 2014

Norton to GOP: Support Democracy for D.C., Not Just Hong Kong

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(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., is urging Republican senators who called on President Barack Obama to support the democracy movement in Hong Kong to also support democracy in D.C.

A bipartisan group of senators, including 10 Republicans and 11 Democrats, sent a letter to the president Thursday, urging Obama to “voice U.S. support for full democracy in Hong Kong.” The group included senators from both ends of the political spectrum who united to write, “[We] strongly support the Hong Kong people’s aspiration for universal suffrage and full democracy.”

In a statement issued later in the day, Norton applauded the show of support for those in Hong Kong fighting for democracy. However, she noted that all of the Republicans who signed the letter and were in the Senate in 2009 voted that year against granting D.C. voting rights on the House floor.

“I hope the Republican signatories recognize their inconsistency in supporting democracy abroad while actively opposing it in their own nation’s capital,” Norton said.

Norton is the District’s only official representative in Congress and she cannot vote on the House floor.

The D.C. statehood movement did reach a milestone in the Senate this year, with the first hearing on the subject in two decades. However, as Norton acknowledged after the hearing, achieving D.C. statehood in the gridlocked 113th Congress is very unlikely.

Correction:

An earlier version of this story misstated the number of Republicans who voted against D.C. voting rights in 2009.

Related Stories:

Senators to Obama: Do Something About Hong Kong

Holder Says It’s ‘Long Past Time’ for D.C. Voting Rights

D.C. Statehood Hearing Explores Other Options

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

October 7, 2014

Wasserman Schultz Gives Bowser a Boost

Muriel Bowser picked up more help from national Democrats on Tuesday in her bid to become the District of Columbia’s next mayor, one day after a nod from President Barack Obama.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., joined the Democratic nominee for what was billed by Bowser’s camp as a “woman-to-woman phone banking event” at the candidate’s Ward 8 campaign office.

After the pair dialed up supporters, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman told reporters she was in Southeast D.C. to “give [Bowser] a boost — not that she needs it,” dismissing suggestions the high-profile endorsements indicate uncertainty about whether Bowser can win the race.

“Muriel Bowser will be elected the mayor of Washington, D.C.,” Wasserman Schultz said, adding, “I was proud to endorse her the day after she won the primary and have been supportive of her ever since.” She said it was important for the DNC to send a signal that “every race is important” and “that we’re not leaving anything to chance.”

Bowser also told CQ Roll Call it was a matter of messaging.

“We want to send a strong message to women voters across the District of Columbia that their votes matter,” she said. “They’re going to decide, and they want to elect a mayor that’s gonna really focus on the issues that matter to them.”

A poll released Oct. 1 by Economic Growth D.C. showed Bowser picking up 35 percent of likely voters, with independent challenger David Catania at 27 percent and independent candidate Carol Schwartz at 11 percent. Twenty-seven percent of likely voters were undecided. The poll of 1,023 likely voters was conducted Sept. 28-30 and has a 3-point margin of error.

Related Stories:

Barack Obama Endorses Muriel Bowser

Catania, Schwartz Offer Different D.C. Statehood Plans

DC Mayoral Candidates Would Vary Approach to Hill

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

October 1, 2014

Catania, Schwartz Offer Different D.C. Statehood Plans

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Two independent candidates vying to become the next D.C. mayor presented two different views on achieving voting rights for D.C. and how best to work with — and without — Congress to do so.

David Catania, a member of the D.C. council, told the several dozen voters gathered at the DC Vote forum that District residents cannot count on Congress to help them achieve full voting rights.

With cloudy skies and the Capitol Dome visible through the office window behind him, Catania said, “I think Congress is so profoundly broken at this point that it is really, you know, quite a tall order to expect a broken Congress that can’t pass federal budgets, that can’t really respond to American democracy, to in fact give us ours.” Full story

September 26, 2014

Holder Says It’s ‘Long Past Time’ for D.C. Voting Rights

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Holder says there’s more work to be done on behalf of voting rights in D.C. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A day after announcing his exit, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. paid lip service to voting rights for residents of the District of Columbia.

Holder, who previously served as a D.C. Superior Court judge and U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, said the Justice Department would continue fighting “until all Americans have equal access to the ballot box,” during a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

“And when I talk about all who want to be heard in the halls of the federal government, I am including the more than 600,000 taxpayers, who, like me — like me, live in the District of Columbia and still have no voting representation in Congress,” Holder said Friday.

“We pay our taxes, we die in the Army, we have a great representative, and we do not have voting rights,” he continued. “It is long past time for every citizen to be afforded his or her full responsibilities as well as our full rights.”

Holder did not outline any specific actions he would take on behalf of D.C. as he waits for a successor to be confirmed, but the line drew a big round of applause.

During the speech, the nation’s first black attorney general reminisced about his earliest encounter with the CBC. Holder said he attended a caucus dinner with his aunt when he was a young lawyer “during my first days here in Washington, D.C.”

The New York City native moved to the District after graduating from Columbia Law School in 1976. He was assigned to the newly formed Public Integrity Section. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan nominated Holder to become an associate judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Five years later, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., recommended him to the Clinton administration to serve as the District’s top attorney.

Norton was among the Democrats congratulating Holder on six years of “outstanding work,” saying D.C. residents were especially proud of his tenure.

Related Stories:

Eric Holder Resigns With a Wink and a Nod

D.C. Statehood Hearing Explores Options

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

September 18, 2014

Judicial Nomination Logjam Causes Dilemma for D.C.

With the flow of judicial nominations slowing to a trickle this summer, District of Columbia officials are becoming increasingly concerned about the effect on the local bench.

Chief Judge Lee F. Satterfield last week wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid describing the “adverse impact” of the backlog. Facing three judicial vacancies on the D.C. Superior Court, and a fourth coming in November, Satterfield requested votes on pending nominations before Congress adjourns.

The Nevada Democrat’s office has not responded formally to the Sept. 10 letter, according to Leah H. Gurowitz, director of governmental affairs and public relations for the court. Despite the correspondence, first reported by Legal Times, the chamber appears poised to adjourn without considering the nominations. Reid’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the situation. Full story

September 15, 2014

D.C. Statehood Hearing Explores Other Options

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Carper, left, chaired Monday’s hearing on D.C. statehood options. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Washington, D.C. residents crowded into a hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building Monday to witness the first hearing on D.C. statehood in two decades, though enacting statehood in the 113th Congress is not likely anytime soon.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, facilitated the hearing, fulfilling a promise that the Senate would consider D.C. statehood in the fall.

But at the end of the hearing, Carper searched for viable solutions other than statehood, asking the second round of panelists, “What should we be able to agree to?” Full story

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