In many ways, being mayor of the District of Columbia has never been more difficult. Under Muriel Bowser, our finances are in good order, city services are being provided, our schools are improving and in general crime is down. Yet she is facing an emboldened Congress believing the time is right to take off the gloves and fight the District in every area. The threats to limit Home Rule appear more real than ever before and suggest there will be a review of every measure the D.C. Council passes that in any way could offend Tea Party constituents.
Congress has long used the District as a petri dish. In 2004, liberal Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined then-Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Ct.) on school vouchers. They would have been laughed out of office if they tried to foist vouchers on their constituents back home but thought nothing of helping to foist them on the citizens of the District of Columbia simply because they could.
The outrageousness of members of Congress who think the nearly 700,000 people of the District should be treated like children and not given the opportunity to govern themselves is now becoming more commonplace with the alternative reality we are facing with Donald Trump and Steve Bannon in the White House.
While Trump is creating chaos with our allies including Mexico and Australia, saber rattling toward Iran and making nice with Russia and Vladimir Putin, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has determined those issues are too difficult to deal with so is instead interfering with how D.C. will spend its own tax dollars.
Recently the Washington Post reported, “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 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 that her plan appears to violate federal law.”
The plan they referred to was the mayor’s commitment to “join 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.” 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.”
A recent Washington Post op-ed co-authored by Chaffetz and former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), right-wing president of the Heritage Foundation, claimed, “D.C. is disregarding the sanctity of life.” They railed against the Death With Dignity Act recently passed by the D.C. Council and signed by the mayor. They reminded us about our servitude writing, “The awesome responsibility of acting as the state for the citizens of the District lies not in the hands of a local government, but with Congress.” They went on to site “Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 of the Constitution vests Congress with exclusive legislative jurisdiction.” Then adding “The D.C. Council last year made a serious error when it passed the Death With Dignity Act, legalizing physician-assisted suicide in the District. Now it is Congress’s duty and constitutional obligation to ensure the act does not stand.” Once again making it clear these pompous asses really believe their view and the views of other members of Congress not elected by the people of the District, count for more than those of nearly 700,000 District residents.
These two clowns and Chaffetz’s colleagues in the Congress know they can’t do anything about this in their states because the Supreme Court in two cases ruled states have the power to regulate, allow or prohibit assisted suicide. In those cases, Washington v. Glucksberg and Vacco v. Quill, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide, and that states therefore have the right to prohibit it. Advocates of assisted suicide saw this as opening the door for debate on the issue at the state level. Then Gonzales v. Oregon was brought to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006. The court ruled that the United States Attorney General could not enforce the federal Controlled Substances Act against physicians who prescribed drugs, in compliance with Oregon state law, for the assisted suicide of the terminally ill.
Considering the chaos with the Trump administration and now Congress, Mayor Bowser deserves kudos for her efforts at navigating these difficult waters.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.