The purpose of that column, instead, was to convey a plea to D.C. leaders to start mobilizing local resources — money, volunteers and time — to support Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s efforts to maintain a Democratic majority. Not much, if anything, along those lines was done, local politicos having chosen to concentrate on the city’s own November elections.
Fortunately, and thanks to herculean efforts by Pelosi’s forces (and campaigning by former president Barack Obama) a predicted red wave didn’t materialize. But the GOP nonetheless regained power in the House — and with it, the power to make good on its anti-D.C. threats.
So, it came as no surprise when victorious House Republicans snapped up the first chance to put down the District when, with help from some Democratic members, they rejected the D.C. Council’s criminal code reform law, enacted after the council had overridden Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s veto. Once President Biden signaled that he wouldn’t come to the council’s rescue, it was equally unsurprising that the Senate followed suit.
Now, House Republicans are drawing a bead on D.C. governance itself.
That’s the best way to read the summons from House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) to select city officials to testify March 29 about the city’s management and operations, including problems of public safety and what he calls “rampant homelessness.”
This isn’t about making “our nation’s capital safe again,” as Comer portrays his upcoming show trial. Comer and his committee hope to have a field day with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the architect of the criminal code revision.
Comer didn’t invite Bowser (D), probably on the assumption that she wasn’t needed to help make his case.
Also on Comer’s agenda is the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act of 2022, which consists of several dozen D.C. police reforms passed by the council in December. That bill was finally adopted without Bowser’s signature. Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) has introduced a House resolution of disapproval to overturn it.
Comer has invited Greggory Pemberton, chairman of the D.C. police union, to testify next week against the police accountability measure. Clearly, Comer wants to tee up the bill as just one more “defund the police” initiative from the radical left.
And he isn’t stopping there. At the instigation of Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — peddler of far-right conspiracy theories and an unabashed defender of Jan. 6 rioters — the oversight committee is launching a full-blown probe into the treatment of detainees in D.C. Corrections Department facilities. The pretrial Jan. 6 detainees are, ostensibly, the committee’s concern. The real aim is to show up the city as a fumbling, incompetent manager of its prison system.
And that fits into the larger goal of yet-to-come wide-ranging congressional probes into D.C. affairs, which is to demonstrate that home rule constitutes misrule in a Democratic-dominated nation’s capital.
The city shouldn’t allow itself to be reduced to a punching bag on Capitol Hill, at least not without a fight. But first elected D.C. leaders must get their own house in order.
To stave off the attacks, the council must focus on fulfilling its most basic function — overseeing the policies and programs it has enacted. City lawmakers are strong on developing and funding constituent-pleasing schemes and activities. As for conducting no-nonsense evaluations to see whether city programs are achieving intended results? The answers are hit and miss, depending upon the commitment and skills of individual council members.
That simply won’t do. The council, performance-wise, must make a better case for itself.
The city must also develop relationships with members of Congress and their staffs — regardless of party. Press releases, news conferences and protests have their place. But a strategy is needed for promoting a better understanding in Congress of how the city operates and why. Sounds prosaic, I know. But as a former Treasury Department official responsible for legislative affairs, I can attest that there’s no substitute for interfacing with members who can do you either hurt or harm. D.C. urgently needs to close that gap.
After all, the 118th Congress is only three months old.