The District will have to grapple with a new marijuana rider. ( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Congress would block the District of Columbia from legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but preserve its decriminalization law, under the spending package released Tuesday night.
In the D.C. appropriations section, which allocates $680 million of federal funds to the District, is an amendment barring federal and local funds from being used “to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or reduce penalties associated with the possession, use or distribution” of marijuana. The language would ban the city from enacting Referendum 71, a ballot initiative overwhelmingly approved by voters in November. Full story
Chaffetz, right, will take over the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
When the 114th Congress begins its first session in January, Washington residents will have two new chairmen at the top of committees with jurisdiction over the District.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, won a four-way contest for the Oversight and Government Reform gavel on Nov. 18. Two days later, he met briefly with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., to lay the groundwork for a working relationship.
“I’m going to work closely with Eleanor Holmes Norton,” Chaffetz told CQ Roll Call. “I told her I need to get my feet under me a little bit, but I want to come sit down with her in December and kind of map out issues that are important to her and things that we should address.” Full story
Activists say local controversies, such as the case against Gray, can’t thwart cause. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
If anyone understands what a “grungy game” politics can be, it’s Capitol Hill staffers.
That’s what Johnny Barnes, an attorney who spent 25 years working for members of the House, theorized when the front page of The Washington Post reported that federal prosecutors might be moving closer to indicting Mayor Vincent Gray. Barnes huddled on Nov. 18 with about a dozen D.C. residents in the lobby of the Hart Senate Office Building, preparing to pitch staffers on why the District deserves to be the 51st state.
“These folks,” Barnes said, “are less sensitive or less focused on that kind of thing, because they know what politics is about.” He chuckled during the interview, recalling his interactions with the late Ohio Democrat James Traficant, who was booted from the House for corruption. “It’s a grungy game, and they know that.” Full story
D.C. Shadow Sen. Michael D. Brown, right, fears his office is being “nickeled and dimed.” (Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)
Shadow Sen. Michael D. Brown fears legislation packaged as an effort to streamline the statehood movement will effectively turn the District of Columbia’s two shadow senators and shadow representative into “employees” of the D.C. government, instead of elected officials.
For the past eight years, Brown has effectively served as a pro bono statehood lobbyist with no voting power in Congress. In that time, he believes the debate has shifted from whether the District becomes the 51st state to when. Brown is proud of the progress a New Columbia statehood bill with a record number of sponsors has made in Congress, and warns “interfering with the movement is not going to help it.”
Leaders in the executive and legislative branches of the District government say they are trying to bring coherence and new resources to the unpaid statehood delegation. The trio currently works out of a small office in the basement of the John A. Wilson building, with no salary, and no formal coordination with Mayor Vincent Gray or the 13 members of the D.C. Council. Full story
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., with Norton. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
The Republican wave didn’t crash in the District of Columbia, but that doesn’t mean the victors won’t have to contend with the GOP Congress.
As local Democrat Muriel Bowser celebrated a double-digit victory in the mayoral contest over independent challenger David Catania, she also took time to speak with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., about the makeup of the House and Senate.
Bowser has promised statehood and legislative autonomy would both be priorities when working with Capitol Hill, and told CQ Roll Call she supported the D.C. Council’s attempt to force Mayor Vincent Gray and Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt to comply with the local Budget Autonomy Act via the court system.
“Well I supported the council’s action in that,” Bowser said Tuesday. “I would expect that to be my policy as well.”
That might put her at odds with the newly elected top lawyer in the District, though. Voters chose veteran attorney Karl A. Racine to serve as the city’s first elected attorney general, who said the lawsuit is “not a winning case” during an Oct. 23 debate. The former associate White House counsel under President Bill Clinton defeated Paul Zukerberg, the attorney who appealed to the courts to get the race on the ballot, and three other candidates who also ran as Democrats. Full story
Smith is one of five DC attorney general candidates. (Courtesy Smith Campaign Flickr account)
Through the drizzling rain on a gray October morning, blue signs emblazoned with “Smitty” are visible in the windows of a three-story red brick building in Shaw. In a small office upstairs, campaign staffers are working to make sure the signs’ namesake becomes D.C.’s first elected attorney general.
Edward “Smitty” Smith, a Democrat and D.C. native, is hoping his government experience and Washington roots will resonate with voters and set him apart from the four other Democrats vying for the position.
“I’m the only person in this race who’s managed government attorneys,” Smith told CQ Roll Call in a recent interview at his campaign headquarters. “This is a government office; it’s not a law firm.”
The posters bearing his nickname can be spotted all over the city. He’s been called “Smitty” his entire life — his Aunt Barbara came up with the nickname when he was born. Smith said he was called “Smitty” so often, he did not learn his real name until he was 3 years old.
Before entering the AG race, Smith held a number of positions in the Obama administration, including chief of staff and prosecutor at the Federal Communications Commission, program director at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and adviser at the Department of Commerce. Smith’s first job with the Obama administration was as deputy general counsel for the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Committee.
Mendelson and Gray both support new statehood efforts. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
In the four decades since Home Rule, elected officials in the District of Columbia have created four different commissions aimed at making the city the 51st state. Looking at the current condition of those panels, it might be obvious why the flag only has 50 stars.
Each one has no members, according to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. None one of the four have been functioning for years, “if ever,” he said Monday at a briefing previewing the council’s Tuesday legislative agenda.
Included on that agenda is a complicated piece of legislation designed to streamline more than 200 mayor-appointed boards and commissions in D.C. would consolidate and bolster the statehood effort. Introduced in January 2013 as the “Boards and Commissions Reform Act,” the council recently revamped the bill by adding “New Columbia Statehood Initiative” to the title and injecting more than a quarter-of-a-million dollars into the fight.
The bill, expected to get a final vote Tuesday, would eliminate 31 panels deemed inactive or unnecessary, including the Statehood Commission, the Statehood Compact Commission, District of Columbia Statehood Delegation Fund Commission, and the 51st State Commission. It would establish two new independent agencies: the Office of Statehood Delegation, and the New Columbia Statehood Commission. Full story
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
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.
An earlier version of this story misstated the number of Republicans who voted against D.C. voting rights in 2009.
Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., tries to hail a taxi. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Between paid advertisements and weather updates on cab monitors, D.C. taxi riders have also heard a message about District voting rights. But those videos, which aired over the past seven months, are in the process of being replaced with a public service announcement about D.C. libraries.
Neville Waters, a spokesman for the D.C. Taxicab Commission, said the DC Vote public service announcements discussing District voting rights should have been replaced last month. However, the PSAs are still airing in some cabs as the monitors transition to the new content.
DC Vote is planning to create new videos next year to be used specifically in cabs and they hope the ads will air in taxis again in 2015. Waters said the commission “would certainly consider DC Vote” when evaluating PSAs for the cab monitors.
The most recent DC Vote videos, which first popped up in cabs in March, consisted of two 15-second spots, one featuring civil rights activist Julian Bond and the other featuring DC Vote’s executive director, Kimberly Perry.
“The goal of the PSAs, from our standpoint, was to educate the 20 million visitors that come to our city and ride in a cab every year,” Perry said in a phone interview Monday.
The D.C. Taxicab Commission deemed the videos as “non-commercial in nature” which qualified them as public service announcements, so DC Vote was not charged a fee for airing the clips.
Perry said the ads were also relatively inexpensive for DC Vote to create, thanks to discounted and donated resources. Perry also said the PSAs were very effective in informing visitors, residents and government employees about their cause, citing an increase in DC Vote memberships since the PSAs aired in March.
The PSAs directed viewers to visit the organization’s website and featured Bond and Perry making a similar statement noting, “D.C. families pay federal taxes, our sons and daughters fight and die in wars, but we have no vote in Congress. Isn’t it time we ended this injustice?”
Campus Reporter Bridget Bowman (@bridgetbhc) keeps her eye what's happening on and around the Hill. She covers local elections, the Capitol Hill community, House and Senate administration, legislative agencies and congressional oversight over the District of Columbia.
Leadership Reporter Hannah Hess (@ha_nah_nah) covers law enforcement and ethics investigations, acting as a watchdog of both chambers of Congress. Her beat includes Capitol Police and the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms.