DC Council ‘literally’ can’t deliver bills to Congress because of Capitol fence

Call it politics as unusual: The fence that was put up around the U.S. Capitol in the aftermath of the deadly Jan. 6 riot left 60 D.C. Council bills in limbo because they “literally” couldn’t be delivered to Congress for review, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said during a Monday news conference.

“So, as you all know, there is a fence around the Capitol complex, and why am I bringing it up? Because we have a requirement — the council has a requirement — under the Home Rule Act, to transmit all legislation to Congress for congressional review. But we can’t get through those fences,” Mendelson said.

“So our office, the Secretary to the Council of the District of Columbia, has been trying to figure out for the last week or so, the last 10 days, how we can deliver legislation, because we cannot get through the fence, literally.”

Shortly after the news conference, the Office of the Secretary posted an update: “We have now secured a contact in VP Harris’ office so we are back on track. Measures will be transmitted on February 1st!!!”

To do its job, the D.C. Council is required to transmit legislation to Congress in person, which hasn’t been a problem until now.

“This has been happening for decades. And, in fact, they won’t even allow a signature stamp, which is fine with me. So I have to sign each transmittal letter, and then we deliver it in person, and we are unable to get through the fences,” Mendelson said.

He added that the most recent roadblock for D.C. government highlights yet another reason why the District deserves statehood.

“It speaks to why we ought to have statehood because, I mean, it’s ridiculous that we transmit legislation to Congress, which they’ve done nothing with since like 1991 or 1992. And here we are,” Mendelson said.

“This is an example of where, you know, they’re not thinking of us when they put the fence around the Capitol, but it affects us and a requirement they imposed on us. We literally cannot deliver the legislation,” he added.

One temporary solution that Mendelson mentioned is for the council to implement congressional review emergencies, “where the council is trying to implement legislation quickly” in the form of emergency bills that last for 90 days but won’t become law without going through the full legislative process.

There are seven contracts and six emergency bills on the docket for the D.C. Council meeting Tuesday. One of the bills will provide two weeks of paid leave for bereavement related to death of a child, a late-term miscarriage or stillbirth.

Mendelson said he doesn’t think the fence situation “is going to go on for years and years.”

“There is not a time limit in the Home Rule Act,” Mendelson said. “But so what?”

“It is an irrational and unsustainable situation that we cannot pass permanent legislation that can become permanent law, because right now, we are struggling with how we deliver these bills to Congress.”

Beyond the legislative headache the fencing has caused for D.C. lawmakers, Mendelson called it “outrageous.”

“It is antithetical to the open society that is a core American value. I think it also is not the solution to terrorism or violence. It just is not the solution. And then it also is creates an enormous burden on the city, on the local government,” Mendelson said.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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