Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Obama Opens Up to the Capital City

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
On Inauguration Day, the presidential vehicles will sport the D.C. license plate that bears the slogan “Taxation Without Representation.”

On Monday, the inaugural parade will march past the John A. Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the District of Columbia’s government does its business.

The viewing stand erected for the occasion will be outfitted with a banner that reads, “A More Perfect Union Must Include Full Democracy in DC.”

If spectators look carefully, when the presidential motorcade drives by, they’ll see that President Barack Obama agrees. Earlier this week, the White House announced that all official presidential vehicles would be outfitted with D.C.’s standard license plates, which bear the motto “Taxation Without Representation.” And local officials and advocates hope the president doesn’t stop there, as they push an April ballot initiative that would unlink the District’s budget from congressional approval.

A comment on the District’s lack of voting rights in Congress, the license plates have for the past decade been issued automatically to any resident who registers a vehicle locally; to get a different tag, the driver would have to opt out. Throughout his first term in office, Obama did just that.

But on the heels of a grass-roots campaign by local activists and the D.C. Council that culminated in a meeting with councilmembers and the White House director of intergovernmental affairs, Obama made the decision to opt in.

“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,” Keith Maley, a White House spokesman, said in a statement.

Political cynics could argue that Obama supported expanded D.C. autonomy all along but was not willing, until now, to risk alienating adversaries.

But, after four years in office expressing support for expanded D.C. autonomy largely from the sidelines, Obama’s sudden decision to sport “Taxation Without Representation” tags is causing a stir. Could it mean a new level of presidential involvement in local affairs over the next four years, particularly at a time when there are a number of issues on and off Capitol Hill where White House support could be pivotal?

The symbolism of displaying the license plates is in itself a statement not to be undermined, D.C. political watchers say, though they cite the circumstances leading up to the decision as greater cause for optimism.

For one thing, the White House listened to local concerns and proactively responded. And then, days later, there was Maley’s statement, which many say had a force behind it they had not seen before from the Obama administration.

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