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D.C.’s mayor went to the White House and asked President Trump for a new VA hospital

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) holds a news conference on Feb. 26, 2019, marking the third anniversary of streetcar service along H Street NE.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) holds a news conference on Feb. 26, 2019, marking the third anniversary of streetcar service along H Street NE. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)
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D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) made a surprise visit to the White House on Wednesday to discuss judicial vacancies and urged President Trump to replace the city’s troubled hospital for veterans.

Bowser joined a scheduled meeting between senior adviser Beverly Perry, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Kevin Donahue and the mayor’s top lawyer, Ronald Ross; and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.

Bowser said that after the meeting, the White House counsel offered to take her and her aides for an impromptu visit with the president in the Oval Office.

Though the Trump administration has been nominating federal judges at a breakneck pace, it has been slower to address vacancies in the courts that handle low-level crime, civil matters and zoning disputes in the District.

There are 10 vacancies at the D.C. Superior Court and two at the D.C. Court of Appeals, the city’s highest court.

To fill a vacancy, the president chooses a nominee from a group recommended by a local commission.

“We just want to encourage them to work with the Judicial Nomination Commission because it could have an impact on public safety,” Bowser said in an interview. She said housing development also is affected by the vacancies at the Court of the Appeals.

The empty benches have a bearing on housing because challenges to projects are pending in the Court of Appeals, the mayor said. “We just want the courts to have their full complement to get those cases moving,” she said.

She has met with the president multiple times but not since they clashed last year over Trump’s plans to hold a military parade in the District. The mayor’s reelection campaign featured their Twitter battle in mailers before the November election.

But on Wednesday, the mayor said that she and the president exchanged pleasantries during their meeting and that she used the opportunity to urge him to build a new VA hospital in the city.

The Washington VA Medical Center has the lowest possible rating and has been the subject of blistering reports from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ inspector general’s office.

In a letter to the president after the meeting, Bowser noted that she was “very respectful” of his commitment to the military and veterans.

“I am hopeful that the attention that you have brought to this group can be memorialized with a legacy project in the nation’s capital that will promote the health and well-being of our veteran service members,” Bowser wrote.

In an interview the next day, the mayor pivoted to praise the president’s predecessor.

“They have upheld President Obama and first lady Obama’s commitment to veteran housing and housing homeless veterans, and that’s important to us, too,” said Bowser.

Spencer H. Hsu contributed to this report.

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