Sen. Rand Paul has a broad portfolio, from foreign aid to speaking on behalf of the Tea Party Express. During the past two years, he has held up presidential nominations, forced votes on non-germane amendments and rankled some of the Senate’s old guard with his floor techniques and public profile.
Now the Kentucky Republican is taking on what could be another high-profile and conflict-driven set of issues. On Wednesday, he was named ranking member of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the District of Columbia.
The panel — known as the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Emergency Management, Intergovernmental Affairs and the District of Columbia — doesn’t deal entirely with D.C. affairs. Lawmakers will likely focus more on the Federal Emergency Management Agency than they will on D.C. statehood and budget autonomy.
Local officials and activists are sensitive to which lawmakers are installed in leadership positions on the congressional committees with oversight of their city. In their eyes, any bill that seems ripe to advance the District could quickly sour when placed in the wrong hands.
Paul insisted in a brief interview with CQ Roll Call on Wednesday that he had not yet begun to think about how he will approach Congress’ relationship with the District from his perch on the panel with jurisdiction.
However, his most recent run-in with a piece of D.C.-specific legislation is likely to put many on edge.
In June of last year, when a bill to unlink the District’s budget from the congressional appropriations process was set for a mark-up by the full Senate committee, Paul announced he would offer amendments to roll back D.C.’s gun laws and its ability to use federal money to pay for abortions.
The moderate-to-conservative makeup of the panel made it likely that some of those amendments would pass, so Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., and others requested that the legislation be withdrawn from consideration rather than proceed with a bill with such policy riders attached.
On Wednesday, Paul’s counterparts who are strong supporters of expanded D.C. rights and foes of congressional interference also declined to weigh in on how the Kentucky lawmaker might make it difficult to pass “clean” D.C.-related bills.
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who was tapped Wednesday to serve as the subcommittee’s chairman, described himself as a “statehood guy” who would approach D.C. legislation from that perspective, as well as with the eyes of a former mayor. Begich was previously chief executive of the city of Anchorage.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has become a friend of the District as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He is continuing his efforts, which began in the previous Congress, to pass D.C. budget autonomy and, in deference to the strong relationships he has forged with Norton and local leaders over the past two years, he opted to eliminate the D.C. subcommittee in the 113th Congress so he could wield the gavel over all local issues coming before the full panel.
Issa didn’t have much to say about Paul’s new assignment Wednesday but suggested that he thought his counterpart might not be as averse to issues such as budget autonomy as he might seem.
“I think even Rand Paul realizes that as long as we don’t give up our congressional ability to make appropriate decisions about our federal city, we can have ‘his way, my way,’” Issa said. “I’m looking forward to working with him on any issue he’s interested in.”