The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Norton ‘extremely concerned’ about possible Republican bill to repeal D.C.’s home rule

Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-D.C.), with Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), on Capitol Hill in April. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Although D.C. won’t have any federal voting representatives on the ballot in November, the outcome of the midterm elections could be consequential for city government, and not just in the pursuit of statehood.

House Republicans recently described plans to restrict the District’s autonomy if they gain control of the House after the November elections, particularly on matters relating to crime, policing and homelessness. And some could go as far as seeking to eliminate D.C.'s autonomy altogether by repealing the 1973 District of Columbia Home Rule Act, which created D.C. government as it’s known today.

Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.), a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which oversees the District, told the Daily Caller that he was putting together legislation to return exclusive control of D.C. to Congress by repealing the act, which allows D.C. to have limited self-government.

That would represent the most aggressive attempt to restrict D.C. officials’ authority in decades. Republicans made similar threats in the 1990s while the District was on the brink of bankruptcy.

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“It’s something to be extremely concerned about, because the District may well find itself in the minority next term,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the District’s nonvoting delegate in the House. “This is very radical, and I must say very unexpected. It will take every bit of energy I have to make sure it does not happen.”

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Since D.C. is not a state, Congress still oversees the city’s budget and laws, authority granted to Congress in the Constitution. But the Home Rule Act of 1973 dramatically expanded D.C.'s autonomy by creating a local government; for about 100 years before that, Congress functioned as its sole legislative body and D.C. residents had no local elected officials, due largely to notorious segregationists’ control of the committee overseeing D.C. affairs and their opposition to home rule for a city with a large population of Black residents.

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Even if Republicans win control of Congress, though, a proposal as drastic as repealing D.C. home rule would be unlikely to succeed in the Senate. The Senate filibuster — which D.C. statehood advocates have supported eliminating — would probably prevent such a bill from passing.

At a coronavirus-related news conference Monday, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) appeared untroubled when asked about House Republicans’ plans to try to limit D.C.'s autonomy should they win the majority in November.

“I’m focused on Washington, D.C., and my job as mayor is to work with whoever’s in the Congress,” Bowser said. “We’ve worked with Democrats and Republicans on a number of issues. That will be our approach regardless of who’s in charge.”

Republicans have long sought to exert control over the nation’s deep-blue capital city. For example, through Republican-led budget riders, Congress has used its authority to block D.C. from using local taxpayer funds to subsidize abortion and from commercializing marijuana, despite a voter-approved law in 2014 legalizing possession of marijuana.

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Republicans lately have been aggressively targeting Bowser over homelessness and rising homicides and carjackings, along with Bowser’s mandate requiring proof of vaccination to enter certain businesses and venues. Bowser said at the Monday news conference that the city is ending the vaccine requirement for businesses Tuesday — though that only prompted more attacks from Republicans, not to mention from some in her party who disagreed with the decision.

D.C. to drop coronavirus vaccination requirement to enter businesses

“.@MayorBowser suddenly lifting DC’s vaccine & mask mandates proves that Dem leaders were never following the science — they were following political science,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), who also sits on the Oversight Committee, said on Twitter. “No longer are the American people going to be used as pawns in their political theatre. It’s time to end the madness.”

Republicans in both the House and Senate had pushed legislation to override D.C.'s vaccine mandate, but because they are in the minority, none of their efforts have succeeded.

But Republicans would be more likely to find support to intervene in D.C. affairs if Democrats lose control of Congress in November.

“Oversight Committee Republicans have called on the D.C. mayor repeatedly to address the surge of homelessness and violent crime and to withdraw her unfair vaccine passport,” Rep. James Comer (Ky.), top Republican on the committee, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “When Republicans are back in power in 2023, we will hold the D.C. mayor accountable for implementing policies that are destroying Americans’ capital city.”

Norton pushed back on Republicans’ arguments that crime, homelessness or drug use in the District could be grounds for restricting the District’s self-governance, arguing that those issues are prevalent in large cities across the country.

A spokeswoman for Clyde said she was unable to share more details or a draft of the bill for the time being. Clyde had told the Daily Caller that D.C.'s leaders “are unfit to properly maintain our nation’s capital” and said it was time for Congress to “repeal the District of Columbia Home Rule Act and reclaim its duty … to manage the affairs of our nation’s capital.”