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S. 130: District of Columbia National Guard Home Rule Act


Washington, D.C. is the only National Guard in the country not to be controlled by the highest-ranking elected official there.

Context

In all 50 U.S. states, the governor can call up their state’s National Guard during an emergency. However, because Washington, D.C. is not a state — despite having a larger population than two actual states — it does not have a governor. The mayor doesn’t control the D.C. National Guard either.

Instead, the president does. This, even though the governors of other U.S. territories including Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands control their own National Guards.

What the legislation does

The District of Columbia National Guard Home Rule Act would give the Washington, D.C. mayor control of the D.C. National Guard, just as governors currently have for their state versions.

The Senate version was introduced on January 28 as S. 130, by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). The House version was introduced a few days later on February 1 as H.R. 657, by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC0).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that D.C. should have local rule over its National Guard, the way that two other states with lower populations (Vermont and Wyoming) both do.

“While the insurrection at the Capitol was an attack on a federal building and not D.C. property, it highlighted more starkly than ever the risk to local D.C. public safety from the president’s control over the D.C. National Guard and ultimate authority over the D.C. police department,” Rep. Norton said in a press release. “The mayor should not be reliant on the president to deploy the National Guard to protect public safety in D.C., and D.C. should never have to worry that a president will take over its police force and use it how he or she sees fit.”

“From Trump’s abuses of power this summer, to the insurrection on January 6th, it’s clear that the District must have complete authority over its National Guard and police forces to protect its own safety and security and that of our nation’s capital,” Sen. Van Hollen said in a separate press release. “While the governors of all fifty states and three U.S. territories control their own National Guard forces, D.C. is denied that basic right. As we fight for D.C. statehood, we must also ensure the District is granted this important instrument of self-governance.”

What opponents say

GovTrack Insider was unable to locate any explicit statements of opposition. But opponents might note that, aside from the past few months, the D.C. National Guard has actually had an almost entirely unblemished record during its 200+ year history under presidential control.

The D.C. National Guard has taken security roles during almost every presidential inauguration and were among the first responders to the Pentagon on September 11. They also ensured safety at some of the largest rallies in American history, including the 1963 March on Washington (featuring Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech) and the 2017 Women’s March.

Odds of passage

Rep. Norton has previously introduced this bill five times. A 2011 version attracted no cosponsors, as did a 2013 versiona 2015 version, and a 2017 version. A 2019 version attracted five cosponsors, all Democrats, but never received a vote in either the House Armed Services or Oversight and Reform Committee, despite Democrats controlling the chamber.

The current version has attracted seven cosponsors, all Democrats — including Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY12), chair of the Oversight and Reform Committee, making it much more likely to receive a vote there.

The Senate version was introduced in June 2020, weeks after the Trump incident. That version attracted nine cosponsors, all Democrats, but never received a vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee, controlled by Republicans at the time.

The current version has attracted 13 cosponsors, all Democrats. It again awaits a potential vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee, now controlled by Democrats.

Last updated Apr 9, 2021. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 28, 2021.


District of Columbia National Guard Home Rule Act

This bill makes the Mayor of the District of Columbia, rather than the President of the United States, the Commander-in-Chief of the National Guard of the District of Columbia.