WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin, Chris Van Hollen (both D-Md.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) have introduced legislation to strip the President’s authority to control the District of Columbia National Guard and to federalize the Metropolitan Police Department. These measures have proven all the more necessary after the President’s recent use of force against peaceful protesters in D.C. The bills have been previously introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), but have never before been introduced in the Senate.
“The First Amendment to our nation’s Constitution is key to the foundation of our country’s democracy. The President of the United States ordering the National Guard to violate the rights of the peaceful protestors with teargas and rubber bullets was an insidious act of power. The President should not have this authority. This incident proves that we must continue to work collaboratively towards statehood for the District of Columbia to ensure the 700,000 citizens of Washington have their rights protected,” said Senator Cardin.
“The President’s use of force against peaceful protestors in D.C. was a gross violation of their First Amendment rights. No governor would allow the President to march troops into their state without express approval – and yet, the District of Columbia is denied that basic right. It’s clear from Trump’s recent actions that the President must be immediately stripped of this authority. As we continue working to secure statehood for the District of Columbia, this basic principle of self-governance must also be addressed,” said Senator Van Hollen.
“The fact that the President of the United States deployed the National Guard against peaceful protestors in the District of Columbia for a photo-op is abhorrent to me – not just as someone who has served in the military, but just as a human being. And the only reason the President was able to carry out that order is because D.C. is not a state – and therein lies the problem,” said Senator Carper, who introduced the first Senate D.C. statehood bill in 2013. “This most recent incident has made clear that, while we work on the important issue of D.C. statehood, the District of Columbia should be granted control over its National Guard and Metropolitan Police Department – autonomy that every single state enjoys. The bills I am introducing today with Senator Van Hollen would give the mayor of D.C. the same control over its National Guard that all 50 states have and fix a law that currently allows a power-hungry President to take control of the city’s police department. If we are to have a healthy democracy, we cannot let what happened to peaceful protestors in Lafayette Square happen again.”
The District of Columbia National Guard Home Rule Act would name the Mayor of Washington, D.C. as Commander-in-Chief of the D.C. National Guard, giving the Mayor the same control over the D.C. National Guard that the governors of the states and the three territories with National Guards have over their respective National Guards. As exemplified recently, under current law, the President is Commander-in-Chief of the D.C. National Guard.
The District of Columbia Police Home Rule Act would repeal the provision in the Home Rule Act that gives the President the authority to federalize the Metropolitan Police Department. The Home Rule Act provides that, “whenever the President of the United States determines that special conditions of an emergency nature exist which require the use of the Metropolitan Police force for Federal purposes, he may direct the mayor to provide him, and the mayor shall provide, such services of the Metropolitan Police force as the President may deem necessary and appropriate.” Mayor Bowser’s office confirmed that during the recent protests, the White House asked about federalizing the MPD.
Recently, a coalition of over 100 groups, including leading civil rights, labor, democracy and environmental groups, sent a letter calling on Congress to give D.C. control over the D.C. National Guard and repeal the President’s authority to federalize the D.C. police department.
In addition to Senators Cardin, Van Hollen and Carper, the D.C. National Guard Home Rule Act is cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
In addition to Senators Cardin, Van Hollen and Carper, the D.C. Police Home Rule Act is cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).