House and Senate Democrats are ramping up a push to give the District of Columbia’s mayor the authority to deploy National Guard troops during a time of an emergency, pointing to the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol as one reason the change is needed.
The measure, which is included in the House version of Congress’ mammoth annual defense policy bill that is still being debated on the Hill, would grant Mayor Muriel Bowser the same authority afforded to state governors to mobilize the District’s National Guard.
The lawmakers say they want to ensure the measure makes it into the final version of the still-pending National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), considered a must-pass bill with just weeks left in the current lame-duck session.
“The D.C. mayor, who knows D.C. better than any federal official and who works closely with federal security officials, should be able to deploy the D.C. National Guard in response to natural disasters and civil disturbances,” the lawmakers, led by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s non-voting Democratic delegate in the House, wrote in a letter Wednesday to House and Senate Armed Services Committee leadership.
“In the event of a large-scale attack on a federal facility like the January 6th attack on the Capitol, a D.C. mayor who controlled the D.C. National Guard would almost certainly immediately deploy the D.C. National Guard to protect the facility,” the lawmakers added.
Ms. Norton was joined by Democratic Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney of New York and Anthony Brown of Maryland and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, in signing the letter.
The measure was approved in the House over the summer in a largely party-line vote, 218-209, as lawmakers waded through a sea of amendments to the NDAA, which sets budget targets and includes a large number of policy riders for the Pentagon.
Republicans said the amendment would usurp the president’s authority. The president currently has the sole authority to deploy the District’s National Guard.
Ms. Norton said during floor debate on the measure that the current chain of command is inconsistent with other National Guard forces in the states.
“This is no different from the division of authority today between a governor and the president, in the event of a large-scale attack on a federal facility,” she said.
After weeks of closed-door talks to iron out differences between House and Senate versions of the bill, negotiators are reportedly nearing a final version which could be taken up as soon as next week.
Politico reported Wednesday that negotiators have agreed on including a $45 billion boost to the Pentagon budget — well above President Biden’s initial budget request, which many lawmakers argued failed to keep pace with inflation.
The added funding mirrors the Senate Armed Services approved version of the bill. The House approved a $37 billion increase to the Pentagon’s top line in its version.
If passed, it would mark the second year that lawmakers have used the catch-all NDAA to increase the Pentagon budget above Mr. Biden’s request.