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Norton reverses position on GOP federal workers bill, says she misspoke

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
3 min

Days after telling The Washington Post she “very strongly” supported a Republican bill that would compel federal workers to return to the office in person, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) appeared to recant her comments, saying that she misspoke in the interview and that in fact she is strongly opposed to the legislation.

“I misspoke to the press about my position on the Show Up Act,” Norton wrote Friday on Twitter. “I strongly oppose the bill. I have long supported allowing federal employees to telework when possible, but I believe we need to strike a balance between telework and in-person interactions, which both have value.”

Norton declined to speak to The Post to explain why she reversed her position or what she misspoke about.

The Show Up Act — sponsored by Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) — would require federal agencies to return to pre-pandemic telework policies to bring remote work back to those levels. It passed the House on Wednesday by a 221-206 vote. Three Democrats — none from the D.C. region — joined Republicans in supporting the bill.

On Tuesday, Norton told The Post that she supported the legislation for economic reasons. About 200,000 federal workers are based in D.C., where they constitute one-fourth of the labor force and are integral to the city’s economic fabric.

“I support that bill very strongly,” Norton said then, “because the effect of covid keeping people home — and now many remaining home — has had more of an effect on the District of Columbia than I’m sure any other jurisdiction. Remember that our workforce is essentially a federal workforce here in the District. So downtown itself cannot be revitalized without federal workers.”

Norton did not immediately realize during the interview that Comer — who is usually a nemesis of hers — had sponsored the bill, but once she did, she said she was pleased, hoping there would be bipartisanship on the bill.

She acknowledged that there might be some resistance from federal workers to return full time to the office, but said people should feel safe considering the widespread availability of vaccines. “That’s why this bill requiring them to return to work is necessary,” she said in the interview.

On Friday, however, she expressed more openness to telework flexibility in noting she is actually opposed to the legislation, and added, “I will continue to work with my colleagues to support federal workers.”

Norton could not vote on the bill because Congress doesn’t give D.C. voting rights.

The economic concerns Norton originally expressed echoed those of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who in a speech last month urged President Biden to return federal workers to the office — or else turn over federal office buildings to D.C. for other purposes, such as housing.

Despite those comments, Bowser said in an interview with The Post on Wednesday that she did not have a position on Comer’s legislation.

Pressed by reporters on the subject Friday, Bowser reiterated that she had not taken a position on Comer’s bill, and said it was the “president’s responsibility” to ensure offices are staffed and productive.

“Our view is that we’re not going to go back to 2019. Nobody thinks that. But it is also my view that most federal workers should be in an office most of the time; at least we should have a centralized strategy,” Bowser said.

Michael Brice-Saddler contributed to this report