Biden, Congress Aim to Give D.C. More Autonomy

President Joseph Biden and both chambers of the U.S. Congress seek to give the District more autonomy over its affairs by allowing its delegate to have senatorial courtesy and sponsoring bills that would allow the mayor to control the D.C. National Guard and repeal the president’s power to federalize the city’s police force.

On Jan. 15, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) announced that President Biden has granted her senatorial courtesy for U.S. District Court judges, the U.S. attorney and the two U.S. marshals for the District. Senatorial courtesy consists of U.S. senators being consulted by presidents when one of their constituents comes under consideration for a presidential appointment.

The District has no representation in the Senate. Norton had senatorial courtesy under the administrations of presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

As she did under the previous two Democratic presidents, Norton will set up a nominating commission made up of lawyers and non-lawyers from the District’s eight wards to screen applicants and to make recommendations for these positions. Norton didn’t have senatorial courtesy under Republican presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump.

As a result, the Republican presidents selected whomever they wanted for District federal positions without consulting Norton and disregarded whether they lived in the city or not.

Norton thanked Biden for the granting of senatorial courtesy.

“The president, who supports D.C. statehood, recognizes that giving D.C. a role in nominations is an element of equal citizenship,” she said. “Even before we achieve statehood and can elect senators, D.C. residents deserve the same role in selecting the federal officials who enforce federal laws in the District that other Americans have in states. This is particularly important for the U.S. attorney, who enforces both D.C. criminal and federal laws and whose major docket is D.C. criminal cases.”

Biden’s overture to Norton mirrors congressional Democrats desire to allow the District to manage its own affairs and be treated like a state. On Jan. 4, the House changed its rules to allow the mayor of the District access to the floor like the states and territories governors have.

For many years, Norton has introduced a bill that would allow the District to elect its own prosecutor and she indicated her intention to reintroduce it for this session.

On Jan. 8, days after the U.S. Capitol attack by insurgents, Norton, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said they will introduce legislation granting the mayor power over the D.C. National Guard and preventing the president from taking over the Metropolitan Police Department.

“The chaos and confusion behind Wednesday’s attacks highlight a critical fact — the District of Columbia must have complete authority to control its own national guard and police forces,” Van Hollen said. “From the president’s abuses of power this summer, to the violent mob attacks we witnessed on our Capitol, it’s clear that this authority should belong to the mayor in order to protect the District, its residents, and our nation’s capital. The Congress must take this action at once.”

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