The Washington Post

D.C. Council gives Obama new plates

((Carolyn Kaster - AP))

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh and Chairman Phil Mendelson presented a new “taxation without representation” license plate to the Obama administration Friday, but received no guarantees that the president will place them on the presidential limousine.

In the council’s strongest challenges to President Obama to date, Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Mendelson (D) hand-delivered the new plate to David Agnew, deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs, during a White House meeting.

They also gave Agnew a copy of a council resolution, approved unanimously Tuesday, demanding that Obama put the “taxation without representation” plate on the presidential limousines.

The council had the Department of Motor Vehicles print up a new license plate with the same number – 800-002 – that they say is currently used on at least one of the presidential limousines.

DMV is also “putting together sets of tags” so the Secret Service can equip all the presidential vehicles with new plates, Cheh said.

City leaders note that former president Bill Clinton used the symbolic tags when he was president in the 1990s, but Obama declined during his first four years in office. As Obama enters his second term, city leaders say they are increasingly less forgiving of the self-described supporter of District voting rights.

“We are asking the president to put the tags on and we hope they can be put on immediately so they can be on for the inauguration,” Cheh said as she showed the plate to reports before driving with Mendelson to the White House. “Part of the purpose here is to raise visibility for the District of Columbia, that we pay taxes, and have a situation where we don’t have representation.”

A White House spokesman did not directly address the meeting, but said that administration “supports full representation for the people of the District of Columbia including voting rights, Home Rule and budget autonomy.”

When they returned from the White House, Cheh and Mendelson and several council members stood in the lobby of the Wilson Building to brief reporters and reiterate their request to Obama. Mendelson described the White House meeting as productive, but said Agnew made no promises.

“I look at this as the second step in a several-step process,” Mendelson said. “It was our expectation that they would not make any promise to us, and they did not. We talked about the president’s support for voting rights. We talked about the president’s support for Home Rule and we talked about how the plates make a statement of fact – that we are taxed, and we are not represented.”

In the weeks since the November election, when Obama won 91 percent of the vote in the District, city leaders and activists have been stepping up efforts to try to convince him to use the plates.

Last month, D.C. Vote submitted a petition on the White House Web site urging that the plates be used.

While they await a formal response from Obama, District leaders say they are contemplating their next step, including potentially erecting a protest sign during the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue on Jan. 21. Council members and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) will be watching the parade from a tent that has been erected on the steps of the Wilson Building.

“This is just part of a campaign to continue to spread the word and make it clear to folks across the country that residents of the District of Columbia have a second-class status, that it is not right and ought to change,” Mendelson said.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.


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