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DC Leaders Fear ‘Unchecked Hostile Congress’ Will Upend Local Law

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Officials are fearful that a hostile Republican Congress could meddle in Washington, D.C., law and further block bills backed by a majority of District residents.

Leaders of D.C. have a lot to digest in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton Tuesday night. Despite a ballot approving a push for D.C. statehood passing with 79 percent support, Mayor Muriel Bowser admitted Wednesday that the Republican stronghold in Congress means that the effort is likely dead. Clinton publicly backed statehood and city leaders were banking on her victory and possible leadership shifts in Congress making it a reality, reports The Washington Post.

While statehood supporters still want to fight on the issue, the D.C. Council is signaling they are more concerned with the impact the next Congress will have on local autonomy.

“My concern is, what does an unchecked hostile Congress look like?” Brianne Nadeau, Ward 1 Council Member, told The Washington Post. “We’ve been dealing with a hostile Congress for years now, but we had a protective backstop in President Obama. We will not have a protective backstop in President Trump.”

The Council and Bowser picked a fight with the House of Representatives in the spring over budget autonomy and legal supremacy from Congress. The Council wanted to spend money from their 2016 budget before it was approved by Congress and the president. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called their efforts to spend freely without congressional approval unconstitutional in May and said city leaders needed to be “reined in.”

The House attempted to pass legislation in the spring that upended a 2013 amendment approved in the District granting it full budget autonomy. The referendum eliminated a measure from the 1973 city charter requiring it to wait for congressional approval before spending money from its budget.

The fight dragged into June after Republican Rep. Thomas Massie proposed eliminating gun-free zones in the District and passing a law allowing for concealed and open carry of firearms. Another congressman introduced a separate amendment stopping the District from spending local funds on abortion services. (RELATED: House Republicans Propose Eliminating Gun Free Zones In Challenge To DC Home Rule)

The amendments were meant to challenge amendments introduced by Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s non-voting representative in the House, aimed at protecting District home rule. Officials in the city fear more fights with Congress are likely with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and the presidency.

“The challenge is on us to work with the new federal government,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson told The Washington Post. “Instead of assuming we have friends, we are going to have to work to win friends and minimize the possibility we draw enemies.”

District voters passed a ballot measure legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational purposes in 2014 but the Republican-led Congress immediately barred the D.C. Council from spending budget funds on taxing or regulating the substance. The law has been left in legal limbo, with residents legally allowed to posses and smoke marijuana in their private residence, but unable to engage in a legal private marketplace.

Congress could vote to invalidate the 2013 budget autonomy amendment in their spending package early next year, but it remains unclear whether language will be inserted.

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