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Bowser Talks Marijuana, Statehood With Boehner

Bowser, left, was among the mayors discussing policy at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser headed to Capitol Hill Tuesday to discuss local  issues with lawmakers, including Speaker John A. Boehner.  

Bowser said her goal was to introduce herself to the lawmakers and foster communication between Capitol Hill and the mayor's office. "We want to have a good relationship and I want [Boehner] to know me. I want him to call me with questions about issues in the District of Columbia," Bowser said after her meeting with the Ohio Republican. "We also highlighted our need to stay open if the government should shut down, and how we feel about autonomy and respecting the will of District residents when they go to the ballot box."  

Bowser said they discussed the District's marijuana initiative, which Congress attempted to block in the appropriations process. The initiative legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in D.C. and District officials argue the initiative can still go forward. Republicans disagree, and the issue is likely heading to court.  

When asked how Boehner responded to the marijuana discussion, Bowser said, "Well, I think that the speaker wants to be able to concentrate on national issues, and recognizes that the District of Columbia is moving in the right direction, and would prefer to have his interest on national issues.”  

Bowser said they also discussed the D.C. school voucher program, which Boehner has championed in the past.  

"They discussed a range of issues, but the speaker’s top priority was continued support of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel wrote in an email to CQ Roll Call.  

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has said  he expects to hold a hearing on the program during the 114th Congress.  

Bowser also met with Chaffetz in December, before officially taking office. On Tuesday, she sat down with the panel's ranking member, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Thomas R. Carper, D-Del. Carper's committee has jurisdiction over the District and held a hearing on D.C. statehood in September, when Carper was still chairman.  

Carper, after his meeting with the mayor, said he expects he will reintroduce the bill granting statehood during the 114th Congress. Though the statehood bill faces opposition in the Republican-led Congress, Carper said Bowser's presence on the Hill could help her work with the GOP.  

"She has a very winning way about her and I would just urge her not to be a stranger here on Capitol Hill," Carper said. "I think she can do a lot of good for the District of Columbia just by her personal presence.”  

Bowser herself stressed the need for "new strategies" to address the GOP Congress. "I think many people would say that we don’t stand a shot but we still have to look for different ways to talk to the Congress about what we need,” she said Tuesday.  

Both Carper and Bowser said they talked about statehood, as well as the need to keep the D.C. government open in the event of a federal government shutdown.  

"The federal government is having problems with our budget and our budget process and it certainly impacts negatively the District of Columbia," Carper said. "Is that fair?”  

Bowser also said she spoke with the speaker about the need to keep D.C. open. "We talked about ultimately what we need," Bowser added outside of the speaker's office, "and that’s full voting rights and statehood.”  

Bowser did not say much about Boehner's response, noting, “I think you know where he is.”  

Boehner's spokesman told CQ Roll Call via email Tuesday that Boehner opposes D.C. statehood.  

Bowser and Boehner met for 15 minutes to 20 minutes Tuesday afternoon, and she said she requested the meeting. Three years ago to the day, former Mayor Vincent Gray met with Boehner, in what he described as an introductory meeting as well.  

The new mayor's meetings Tuesday were also described as first steps toward building a relationship with lawmakers, though Congress and the District are often at odds when Congress intervenes in local affairs. Bowser has firsthand experience fighting against Capitol Hill. In 2011, the Capitol Police arrested her, along with Gray and some of her fellow councilmembers, during a protest against budget riders aimed at the District. But on Tuesday, Bowser struck a collegial tone, emphasizing that she wants to work with federal lawmakers.  

"I think it’s important that members get to know me and my priorities," Bowser said. "And my willingness to work cooperatively with them."  

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