D.C. using Capitol Building fence as excuse to demand statehood

We learned last week that imposing security fences would now be a permanent feature at the Capitol Building in the wake of the January 6th riot. In a rare demonstration of how the federal government can actually get something done promptly when sufficiently motivated, the fencing began going up in record time. Access to the grounds was strictly controlled with a limited number of gates offering entry. And this, at least according to some Democrats in the District, is a reason that D.C. should be granted statehood. Huh?

If you’re feeling confused right now, you’re not alone. The explanation being offered by the District’s municipal government is based on a rather obscure law requiring any new legislation passed by the District to be hand-delivered in a paper hard copy to the leadership in both the House and the Senate. There is no provision for delivering them electronically or even through the Postal Service. So with new laws being passed over the past week, the officials tasked with delivering them were initially unable to get into the building with the documents. This has become the latest argument among Democrats in favor of conferring statehood on the District. (Associated Press)

That foreboding black fence erected around the U.S. Capitol building has had an unintentional side effect: walling off the local government’s ability to enact new laws.

Washington D.C. city officials say dozens of new local laws have been bottlenecked because of the complete lockdown of the Capitol building following the violent Jan. 6 attack by supporters of former President Donald Trump. Under terms of Washington D.C.’s tortured relationship with the federal government, physical paper copies of all new laws must be hand-delivered to Senate and House leadership. They cannot be mailed or e-mailed.

“We are unable to get through the fences. We are trying to find a way to deliver the legislation,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said Monday. “Sooner or later, there’s going to be a gate that opens.”

So the bottom-line argument here is that if the District were a state, they wouldn’t have to go through the process of “congressional transmittal” and they could pass their own laws. The number of things wrong with this argument should go without saying, but since some people clearly want to start a fight over it, I suppose we should point them out.

First of all, the “problem” was solved in less than two days. The secretary of the D.C. Council sent someone with the new bills to meet a staffer for the House of Representatives and a member of Vice President Kamala Harris’ staff (as the President of the Senate) and the documents were handed over. They didn’t need to call in a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

Even if Congress is busy with other things, under the same set of laws the new bills will become law anyway in either 30 or 60 days (depending on the type of legislation) if no action is taken. It takes quite a while to pass a law, so waiting another month shouldn’t be causing much of a crisis.

Seeking to resolve this situation doesn’t require anything as drastic as adding another state to the union. The requirement to transmit the documents in this fashion isn’t in the Constitution. It’s a law. Laws can be changed. If the D.C. government feels that strongly about it and enough people agree with them, Congress can amend that rather silly law to allow for bills to be emailed, faxed, or dropped off at the Post Office. I can’t imagine anyone in Congress being all that upset about such a change.

In reality, this episode is nothing more than yet another excuse to try to make D.C. a state and it has nothing to do with the representation of the residents of the District. Democrats just want two more senators from a solidly blue area to be added to the roster to gain a partisan advantage over Republicans. That’s what this entire food fight has always been about. But in the history of this tug-of-war, a new security fence at the Capitol Building has to be among the dumber rationales to see the light of day.