Editorial: Congress should grant D.C. control over its own National Guard

Jan 9, 2021
In The News

AFTER THE D.C. National Guard was used to forcefully clear peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square last summer so that President Trump could stage a photo op, legislation was introduced in Congress that would have given D.C.’s mayor authority over the National Guard and repeal the president’s authority to federalize the D.C. police. The bill went nowhere, but after being forced to hide in offices as the Capitol was assaulted by a mob of the president’s supporters, members of Congress might want to rethink that. The crisis showed that the mayor of D.C. should have the same authority over the guard that is enjoyed by every governor of a state or U.S. territory.

The country watched in horror Wednesday as the Capitol was overrun by rioters who climbed over barriers, climbed up walls, and smashed windows and doors. Five people died, including a 42-year-old Capitol Police officer who authorities said was injured while “physically engaging” with those who had invaded the Capitol. Eventually, after D.C. police responded and started to clear the building, the D.C. National Guard was deployed, along with units from Virginia and Maryland, but the delay and confusion have spotlighted the unique — and problematic — legal framework of the D.C. National Guard.

Of the 54 National Guard organizations in the United States — one for each state, plus Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands — the District’s is the only unit that is never under the control of local authorities. That authority resides with the president and is delegated to the defense secretary. This allows the federal government to deploy guard troops in Washington without the agreement of the D.C. government — and, as we saw this week, it also creates unnecessary delays and obstacles for local officials in handling matters of public safety. “The chaos and confusion behind Wednesday’s attack highlight a critical fact — the District of Columbia must have complete authority to control its own National Guard and police forces,” said a statement from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who plans to introduce reform legislation with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.).

For too long, D.C. has been denied voting rights and increased self-government because of opposition from Republicans who have called the D.C. government corrupt and incompetent, the city dangerous, and its residents other than real Americans. After Wednesday, they owe the District and its residents an apology and the same rights that are enjoyed by every other American citizen.