Sens. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, and Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, 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 Washington, D.C. The bills have been previously introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-Washington, D.C., but have never before been introduced in the Senate.
“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,” said Carper, who introduced the first Senate D.C. statehood bill in 2013. “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. 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 Sen. 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.” The mayor’s office confirmed that during the recent protests, the White House asked about federalizing the MPD.
Recently, a coalition of more than 100 groups, including leading civil rights, labor, democracy and environmental groups, sent a letter calling on Congress to give Washington, D.C., control over the D.C. National Guard and repeal the president’s authority to federalize the Washington, D.C., police department.