President Obama has agreed to place license plates on his presidential limousine that call attention to the District’s lack of voting rights in Congress, White House officials said Tuesday.
The plates will incorporate the “Taxation Without Representation” slogan that appears on standard-issue plates around the District, a reference to its 618,000 residents’ lack of representation in the House and Senate despite a population that outstrips two states.
Mr. Obama’s limousine will sport the plates during inauguration weekend and for the remainder of his term, officials said.
“President Obama has lived in the District now for four years, and has seen first-hand how patently unfair it is for working families in D.C. to work hard, raise children and pay taxes, without having a vote in Congress,” White House spokesman Keith Maley said in a statement. “Attaching these plates to the presidential vehicles demonstrates the President’s commitment to the principle of full representation for the people of the District of Columbia and his willingness to fight for voting rights, Home Rule and budget autonomy for the District.”
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said he appreciated Mr. Obama “agreeing to bring attention to this important issue during the inauguration festivities.”
The decision is the result of intense lobbying from D.C. Council members, who wanted to see Mr. Obama continue the practice that was embraced by President Clinton in his second term — when the District began issuing the plates — and not followed by George W. Bush.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a Democrat and council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, met with members of Mr. Obama’s staff on Friday to discuss the issue.
“Kudos to the President for agreeing to a small but larger than life sign of his commitment to the District and its residents,” Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting member of Congress, said in a statement. “Double kudos to the D.C. Council for pursuing a strategy to make it happen.”
While it is a symbolic gesture, advocacy group D.C. Vote said the move instills confidence that Mr. Obama recognizes that city residents are not satisfied with the status quo and there are more significant issues that need to be addressed.
“We’re ecstatic, of course,” D.C. Vote spokesman James Jones said. “The president didn’t have to do this.”
Although they consider Mr. Obama a friend of the District, city leaders have been disappointed by the Democratic president’s lack of affirmative steps to support their efforts for increase home rule, particularly when he enjoyed a majority in both chambers of Congress at the start of his first term.
Mr. Gray was arrested alongside several council members and numerous activists in early 2011 while protesting a deal Mr. Obama struck with House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, to settle a short-term spending standoff. The president reportedly said, “John, I’ll give you D.C. abortion,” in allowing a ban on the use of local funds to carry out abortions for low-income women in the District to stand in negotiating the deal.
Mr. Obama did, however, use his fiscal 2013 budget plan to promote the District’s plight to set its own fiscal year and spend its local fund without waiting on federal lawmakers to issue a spending bill, although Congress has not granted the right.
City voters will weigh in on the issue, known as “budget autonomy,” in a charter referendum scheduled for April 23, forcing lawmakers on Capitol Hill opposed to actively disapprove of the measure.