Supporters of a bill to give DC’s mayor control of the district’s National Guard say they will continue to push for inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), even though the provision was not part of the bipartisan package of amendments that had been accepted by the floor managers of the massive defense policy bill in the Senate.
The Senate was unable to agree on further amendments before leaving for Thanksgiving. Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen wants the chamber to raise its District of Columbia National Guard Home Rule Act when senators return to seats next week, officials on Capitol Hill said.
The measure passed the Democratic-controlled House but faces an uncertain future in the Senate. If it’s not included, Mr Van Hollen is expected to pressure colleagues in the House to fight for the change when legislation goes back to conference to smooth out the difference between the two chambers’ bills.
The bill was passed by the United States House of Representatives in late September, the first time either house passed a bill to give the D.C. mayor control of the National Guard. It gave supporters hope that the city’s elected leader would soon have the same authority as state governors over their military and Air National Guard personnel.
Unlike the state National Guard, the president is the commander of the DC National Guard as it protects the federal enclave. The anomaly sparked tensions last year during the sometimes violent Black Lives Matter protests in the city and again in the response of local and federal security forces during the chaotic events at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Followers like Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s Democratic representative in the House, pointed to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol by supporters of President Trump as an example of why the mayor should be in control of the troops.
“The Mayor of the District of Columbia is the chief executive for our jurisdiction and has the best knowledge and most trusted expertise about when to deploy our own National Guard,” she said in a statement.
mr. Van Hollen said DC officials were paralyzed when the crowd stormed the US Capitol because of the time it took to approve the deployment of the National Guard.
“Clearly, the district must have full authority over its National Guard to protect its own security and that of our nation’s capital,” the Maryland Democrat said.
The DC National Guard has a unique command structure within the US military. It was established in 1802 to defend the newly created District of Columbia. The commander is solely subordinate to the President of the United States. It is the only surveillance unit of the 54 states and territories to report only to the president.
The power to activate the DC National Guard is delegated to the Army and Air Force service secretaries through the Secretary of Defense by the President. Proponents of the measure said a quicker deployment of the guard could have ended the confrontation with the Capitol hours earlier.
“As a former governor, I recall numerous instances where I called on the Delaware National Guard to respond to emergencies such as floods, snowstorms, ice storms, droughts, and more,” said Senator Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat and former state governor. .
But Zack Smith, a lawyer with The Heritage Foundation, said there’s plenty of reason to exercise caution before DC’s mayor puts the National Guard in command, given the city’s unique status.
“The founders wanted to make sure they have the final say and ultimate control over the exercise of the safety and security of the Federal District,” he said. “Senators should proceed with caution before voting in favour.”
If the law takes away authority over DC’s National Guard, a future president could be at odds with the DC mayor.
“The mayor of DC should not call on the National Guard to further the federal government’s purpose,” Mr. Smith said.
Mr. Smith said DC might give the National Guard house rule as a consolation prize for not getting statehood. But Ms Norton called the measure “another step towards full equality to DC”
The NDAA is the annual budget and policy law traditionally passed by Congress with bipartisan support. The Senate returns after the Thanksgiving break to start a floor debate on the measure.