Campus Notebook: Abortion Ban Hangs Over D.C. Autonomy
The elation that greeted Virginia GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell’s announcement last week that he backs giving D.C. control of its own budget is tempered by concerns among local officials and activists that any such measure could still carry an abortion ban along with it.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees D.C. affairs, expressed his commitment late last year to giving budget autonomy to the District to help city government avoid a shutdown whenever Congress appears unable to pass a spending bill.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), Mayor Vincent Gray and others welcomed the proposal but reluctantly rejected the plan Issa unveiled in November because it contained a provision barring local funding for abortions — a move Issa said was necessary to win Republican votes.
Issa continues to work on a bill to establish budget autonomy that will satisfy stakeholders on both sides.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, said in an email that the organization “would oppose any [budget autonomy] legislation … unless it contains, at a minimum, a permanent prohibition on government-funded abortions in the Federal District.”
The influential group is already waging a battle in support of a bill that would ban abortions in the District after 20 weeks unless the mother’s life is in danger.
Activists supporting more autonomy for the District say that dynamic is exactly what they fear: Norton and others might be willing to swallow the bitter pill of an abortion rider to win long-sought budget autonomy.
“At this point, the likelihood of a budget autonomy bill passing without riders is an open question,” DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka said. “It’s something we will continue to push for and get more active in pushing for.”
Norton has maintained that it is too early to start guessing what Issa’s next proposal might look like and emphasizes that a positive working relationship is reason to be hopeful for a “clean bill.”
“When you have the kind of relationship where you can get as far as we got on the bill itself, you don’t start off by saying what you won’t accept,” she said. “Everybody knows where we stand on these riders and how strongly we feel about this, but I don’t see anything now standing in the way of, whatever anybody wants to put on the table, bringing us to that table, too.”
Law Enforcement Remains Vigilant About Suspicious Mail
The FBI, Capitol Police and regional law enforcement agencies continue to warn Members of Congress to be on the lookout for “powdery substances” being mailed to local offices.
On Wednesday, the House and Senate Sergeants-at-Arms emailed lawmakers and staff in their chambers to inform them that two Senators and one House Member had received threatening letters at their state and district headquarters.
By the end of last week, at least six Senators and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had received such packages bearing return addresses from the Pacific Northwest.
Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider confirmed to Roll Call that Boehner and Sens. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) were among the most recent targets.
“While none of the mail received and tested thus far has been found to be harmful, it is clear that the person sending these letters is organized and committed, and the potential to do harm remains very real,” Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said in a Thursday letter to the Senate community.
Gainer has also said more letters could be on the way.
In statements to Roll Call, spokesmen for Coats and Roberts said the Senators were out of the office during the scares and that testing at Coats’ office showed the substances were harmless.
Lieberman spokeswoman Whitney Phillips described the Hartford office’s mailing as a “package” that prompted a decision to ultimately evacuate the office and have district staff telecommute on Friday.
Initial tests of the powdery substance came back negative for hazards, Phillips continued; further testing will illuminate what the substance actually is.
Back in Washington, the Capitol Rotunda briefly shut down Friday morning when a mysterious powder was detected on the floor. Capitol Police put the substance through routine testing and it was found to be just smashed-up candy from a candy necklace, Schneider said.
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