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Proponents of the referendum say members of Congress haven’t demonstrated the ability to agree on much of anything these days, so they are unlikely to come together and actively reject the will of D.C. voters.

Nonetheless, the mayor consulted with the city’s attorney general and other legal analysts before compiling his objections this week in an eight-page letter to the council. In it, he reiterated his doubt that Congress will let the maneuver pass through unscathed.

“I wish it would happen,” he said. “I don’t think it will.”

Even as Mr. Gray asks the council to reconsider its strategy, he has been careful to reissue his support for budget autonomy and remain a cheerleader for D.C. home rule. After all, his cautious tone follows a two-year period in which he marched through the streets to protest congressional interference, visited New Hampshire to pitch D.C. statehood, and was even arrested protesting legislative meddling in the city’s abortion laws.

“I have no problem reconciling that,” Mr. Gray said of his mixed approaches to D.C. rights. “I’m saying that absolutely I want to have budget autonomy — we should be able to have the authority to determine how we spend our own money. I just have misgivings about this strategy.”

Asked if he would vote for budget autonomy in the spring, the mayor said: “Probably.”