Republican Congress takes on Washington, D.C., laws to local outrage

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A vote by U.S. House Republicans on Monday to strike down a Washington, D.C., law that would allow doctor-assisted suicide has put the conservative Congress on a collision course with the liberal city that hosts it, local officials said.

In the District of Columbia, where just 4 percent of the population voted for President Donald Trump, city leaders worry that Republicans will overturn progressive laws on issues like gun control and abortion, to the outrage of locals who have long complained of curtailed rights.

One of the most liberal U.S. cities, Washington is unique in that the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the option to block its legislative moves. Its 680,000 residents pay federal income taxes but have no voting representative in Congress.

“This is yet another attempt by this House committee to trample the autonomy of the D.C. Government and undermine our local control,” Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who signed the assisted suicide law in December, said in a statement after the signing.

Monday’s vote by the House Oversight Committee, headed by Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz, took the first step in overturning the measure letting doctors help terminally ill patients end their lives.

The full House and Senate would now have to vote and Trump would have to sign a repeal by Friday, the 30-day deadline for Congress to act.

“Congressman Jason Chaffetz has sent a signal to D.C. residents that Congress has zero respect or concern for their will or the will of their elected officials,” Bowser said.

Bowser called the vote a power grab by legislators who espouse states’ right to make their own laws but differ when the heavily Democratic city is involved.

The vote was the first in a series of Republican-sponsored measures taking on city laws. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida last month introduced legislation that would bar city lawmakers from passing gun control laws and repeal local firearm registration requirements.

Rubio said the measure, aimed at Washington, was needed to protect residents’ constitutional right to bear arms.

The House also has approved a bill that would permanently ban the District from using local tax funds for abortions for poor women.


Congress granted the 68-square-mile (117-square-km) enclave a mayor and council in the 1970s and has voided only a handful of District laws since then.

But Chaffetz has pledged to intensify scrutiny, saying at Monday’s hearing that the assisted suicide law could create “a marketplace for death.”

Washington’s city council has passed laws in recent years on issues dear to liberal Democrats nationally. These include a $15-an-hour minimum wage, legalized recreational marijuana and one of the country’s most generous family leave laws.

“The District is a progressive jurisdiction in the midst of a conservative Congress,” Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s congressional representative, said in a phone interview.

Washington leaders have relied on the Senate, which has long had less appetite than the House to interfere with District laws. The city also had an ally in Democratic President Barack Obama.

That protection is gone, Norton said.

Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Scott Malone and Richard Chang