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|Congressional Republicans Meddle in D.C. Affairs|
House Republicans pass bill that would block D.C. funding for abortion
House Republicans on Tuesday passed a bill, by a vote of 238 to 183, that would prevent the District from using local tax dollars to subsidize abortion services for low-income women.
When the GOP announced the bill last week, Democrats vowed to fight it and decried federal interference with a local issue.
But on the House floor, just three Democratic members of Congress — and the District’s nonvoting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton — stood up on behalf of the city.
Although the Senate has never passed the bill, the vote was an ominous sign that the District could become an afterthought as Congress considers targeting laws regulating guns, assisted suicide and marijuana in the nation’s capital.
The stakes are particularly high for the District this year, as it cannot rely on a Democratic presidential veto. Republican President Donald Trump has said he would sign a bill blocking federal funding for abortion, known as the Hyde Amendment.
Norton downplayed concerns that the abortion bill would ever become permanent.
“This bill always bothers the hell out of me and by now it shouldn’t,” she said after the vote. “It’s an annual bill that always comes up as almost the first ideological bill of the Congress, timed to the March for Life. It has never become law.”
The bill came up for a vote Tuesday in time for abortion opponents’ annual march on the mall.
One of the speakers will be Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), the House sponsor of the bill, who noted that congressional authority puts the city’s laws in play like nowhere else. Otherwise, he said, he would go after the states, too.
“We do have a constitutional jurisdiction,” he said. “The children here are just as important as children everywhere. If we could reach states, I would be doing it. This bill would have had it in there.”
On the floor, he spoke beside a sign that read, “Hyde Amendment has saved 2 million lives #WhyWeMarch”.
Although he did not cite a specific path to reach the 60 votes necessary to pass the measure in the Senate, Smith said he was optimistic.
“We have a new president who will sign it,” he said. “I think there’s a growing chorus of pro-lifers, not diminishing. We’re going to find some ways of getting this to the president’s desk.”
In addition to Norton, only Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) specifically advocated for the District during debate on the bill. Raskin’s district is anchored by Montgomery County.
“A few days ago millions of Americans made history by marching for freedom and equality against an administration that keeps threatening to grab women by their privacy rights,” said Raskin, who is on leave from his job as a constitutional law professor.
In D.C., he said, “this extreme legislation constitutes a special assault on liberty.”
The bill could make permanent the Hyde amendment, which some members noted is already effectively the law because it is attached to annual appropriations bills.
In addition to blocking federal Medicaid dollars from funding for abortion, the bill says plans associated with the Affordable Care Act — or the program Republicans come up with to replace it — cannot cover abortion.
The bill would have a more dramatic effect in the nation’s capital. It would make permanent a prohibition on the District spending its own locally raised tax revenue — as 17 states now do — to subsidize abortions.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), whose district spans Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria, said the “completely crazy” bill flies in the face of the Republican idea that the federal government should have less — not more — authority of local issues.
“It’s just not right,” he said. “We need to do the best possible job to make sure they don’t get to 60 votes in the Senate.”
Beyer said he did not speak on the floor because Democrats tapped members from relevant committees, even though Democrats ran out speakers before their time expired.
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), whose district includes Fairfax and Prince William counties, submitted remarks opposing the bill but those did not mention the District.
“I think we gain more political traction broadening the issue to women’s rights, not just an issue of D.C. control,” he said. “This is about women’s rights everywhere.”
Norton offered an unsuccessful amendment to Smith’s bill that would have allowed the District to spend its local funds on abortion services for low-income women.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), one of five co-sponsors of the amendment, submitted it Monday night in a committee meeting. Norton had a scheduling conflict.
D.C. Major Muriel E. Bowser’s chief of staff, John Falcicchio, said the mayor’s office welcomed support from those who did stand up and defend the District.
He said that since the bill was introduced last week, the mayor’s office had been “consulting with allies both inside and outside of Congress on how to best defend the interests of the District.”
Council member David Grosso, (I-At large) said he believed antiabortion groups were saving their energy for a series of votes in the Senate, where if Democrats stick together, they should be able to defeat the bills targeting abortion rights, including the one limiting access in the District.
“My No. 1 ask of Congress is the same as the mayor said the other day, to leave us alone,” Grosso said. “ I think that is the appropriate ask, and it’s consistent with the congressional philosophy of states’ rights — but for D.C. they just seem to want to make us a little petri dish and experiment.”
House GOP warns D.C. mayor not to use tax money defending illegal immigrants
House Republicans with oversight over the nation’s capital are investigating D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s plan to use local tax dollars to defend illegal immigrants from deportation.
The mayor received a letter Wednesday from Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), head of the subcommittee for District affairs, warning her that her plan appears to violate federal law.
Bowser (D) this month joined leaders from Chicago, Los Angeles and New York in announcing that their cities would set up legal defense funds to represent illegal immigrants targeted for deportation under the policies of President Trump.
The fund would “double down” on the District’s status as a “sanctuary city”, Bowser said. D.C. police are already instructed not to ask those they stop or arrest about their immigration status, and city corrections officials provide only limited help in identifying nonviolent criminals to federal agents for deportation.
Bowser said the $500,000 fund would be used to teach the city’s estimated 25,000 illegal immigrants their rights and to hire lawyers to represent city residents in deportation proceedings and help them apply for asylum.
The District’s complicated financial relationship with the federal government, however, means that Washington may have less latitude than other cities to carry out its plan.
Because the District is a federal territory, local lawmakers cannot spend any of the city’s local tax revenue — which tops $7 billion annually — in ways that conflict with federal spending rules. And a decades-old federal law known as the Immigration and Nationality Act says that no taxpayer money can be used to assist illegal immigrants in fighting deportation.
Chaffetz and Meadows cited the law in their letter and ordered Bowser’s office to turn over all documents related to the planned fund, including any internal legal documents drafted to defend the mayor’s proposal, and a list of outside organizations that could receive grant money from the fund.
“The District’s planned use of funds . . . to pay for legal representation of individuals subject to removal proceedings appears to be in conflict with existing federal law,” Chaffetz and Meadows wrote.
A spokeswoman for the House Oversight Committee declined to comment.
Bowser said the congressional investigation highlighted anew the District’s need for statehood and the “special” burden the city’s residents face. “These are the types of questions we will be called to answer,” she said.
The letter from Chaffetz and Meadows arrived as Trump was at the Department of Homeland Security announcing an executive order to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and to ramp up deportations of illegal immigrants.
Trump’s order instructed his administration to identify federal funding that could be withheld from the District and other cities if they maintained sanctuary policies.
D.C. budget officials said the order could wreak havoc on the city, potentially jeopardizing billions in annual assistance.
But as mayors nationwide weighed in with defiant statements, Bowser’s office remained quiet for more than three hours.
Bowser later said that the District would remain a sanctuary city, but added that the letter from Chaffetz demanding that the city produce documents had complicated its response to Trump. Aides to the mayor said she had held a long conference call with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, to plan a response.
It is not the first time that Chaffetz has tussled with Bowser.
Two years ago, the oversight chairman raised the prospect of the mayor facing jail time for violating federal drug laws if she implemented a voter-approved ballot measure that legalized marijuana.
Bowser allowed a partial legalization, letting adults to carry and privately consume marijuana. But she did not press a bigger showdown with Chaffetz over taxing and regulating it, as Colorado and other states have done.
The District has been left with one of the nation’s most disjointed marijuana policies, in which possession is legal, but sales and purchases remain illegal.
Chaffetz dropped the matter amid warnings by then-President Barack Obama that the White House supported the District’s right to set its own drug laws.
With a Republican in the White House, it is unclear how far House Republicans may now go in asserting control over the District.
This week, the House passed a bill that would permanently ban the District from spending its own tax money to subsidize abortions for low-income women. The White House issued a statement saying the president would sign the bill.
Efforts to roll back D.C. gun laws also have been introduced in the House.