Eleanor Holmes Norton confronts Obama on D.C. budget bill

October 9, 2013

Updated 9:30 p.m.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) had what some colleagues called "a heated exchange" and what she described as "a conversation" with President Obama during a White House meeting Wednesday afternoon regarding the District's budget constraints as a result of the partial government shutdown.


Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). (Post)

Norton attended the meeting in the White House East Room with nearly 200 House Democrats and was one of a handful given the opportunity to ask the president a question. When she was called upon, Norton pressed Obama to support a House-passed bill that would permit the District to use its locally raised tax funds to maintain operations until Dec. 15.

Democrats, including Obama, have held fast in opposition to such piecemeal funding bills, saying Republicans must come to a deal to fund the entire government, not just favored segments.

Making her point, Norton spoke over the president and refused to yield the microphone, according to a lawmaker who attended the event. The lawmaker described Norton as "strident," "self-absorbed" and "parochial" in her exchange with Obama.

But Obama held firm to his belief that Republicans should work to reopen the entire federal government and not pass stand-alone spending measures, said the lawmaker, who asked not to be identified in order to speak frankly and maintain relationships with colleagues.

Norton confirmed in an interview that she pressed Obama to support the bill and that she doesn't care whether some colleagues felt uncomfortable about the exchange.

"I wasn’t picking a fight with the president, I think the people of the District would expect me to have a conversation with him rather than just asking a question," Norton said.

While most lawmakers might not interrupt Obama as he answered their question, Norton said she was compelled to interject when Obama suggested in his response to her that the budget crunch facing the District is similar to how other congressional districts are adjusting during the shutdown.

"That demanded that I give a response," she said. "Obviously we’re the only District in the United States. We’re uniquely in this position."

Norton insisted she meant no disrespect towards the president. "He’s a big boy and I’m a big girl," she said.

When the meeting ended, Norton said "I went up to him and we had a wonderful conversation, it was very collegial,. And I told him that I’m just trying to make sure that the District isn’t brought to its knees."

Addressing a crowd at a gala event for the D.C. Vote nonprofit Wednesday night, Norton said: "I had to take issue with the president today,"

She said she had to remind Obama that the District is seeking to spend local funds during the shutdown, not federal funds.

Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), accepting an award at the event, described the scene at the White House: "I thought you were going to hit him or something," he cracked after Norton introduced him.

The exchange with Obama came just hours after Norton and Washington Mayor Vincent C. Gray confronted Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and pressed him to support the House bill.

“I’m on your side, don’t screw it up, okay? Don’t screw it up,” Reid told Gray.

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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