The delegate from the District of Columbia had been in touch with the White House, and high-level administration officials had sat with her for meetings and phone calls to discuss her concerns.
Just a few weeks earlier, President Barack Obama had agreed to outfit his fleet of vehicles with the “Taxation Without Representation” license plates that had perhaps for the previous four years been too strong a statement about D.C.’s non-state status.
At that time, a White House spokesman described how the gesture “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.”
There was every reason to think Obama would say something — anything — in his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening about the federal city.
“I am totally baffled,” Norton said in the minutes after Obama concluded his remarks in the House chamber. “I would be less baffled if he hadn’t put the license plates on his vehicle right before the inauguration. Was that a signal or not? Was that the beginning or the end?”
When Obama spoke of “our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote,” that would have been the perfect opening, she added.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who is chairman of the D.C.-focused Oversight and Government Reform Committee and has been a champion of expanded autonomy for the city, agreed.
“I expected that [Obama] was going to throw a great many populist statements out and statehood for District of Columbia certainly would have fit that mold,” Issa reflected on Wednesday. “I don’t know why he dissed 700,000 people in the District of Columbia.”
Obama would not have been the first president to mention Washington, D.C., in a State of the Union address in a context unto itself, rather than in reference to the “Washington bubble” that separates Americans from their elected officials.
The last president to mention the District in such a way was George W. Bush, who in his final address to a joint session of Congress thanked it for passing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. That year, the initiative allowed low-income parents to send more than 2,600 children to private schools through federally funded vouchers. Like all school voucher programs, this one was controversial, but it still marked an acknowledgement of the people on the ground.