It sucks to live in Washington, D.C.—or so says John Oliver, the surprisingly nimble political satirist and host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight. Yes, if you thought Sen. Marco Rubio making The Hill’s ultra-silly list of the “50 Most Beautiful People” on Capitol Hill was bad, well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg for D.C. residents.
“There is one U.S. territory that suffers a lack of representation in D.C., and that is D.C. itself,” Oliver announced on Last Week.
District of Columbia license plates say “taxation without representation” for a reason. If you’re a resident of D.C., you’re forced to shell out for federal taxes and can fight in wars, yet no member of Congress is there to fight on your behalf, even though D.C.’s population eclipses that of states like Vermont and Wyoming, and its GDP is higher than 16 other states.
Oliver noted that when the Dalai Lama came to visit D.C. some years back “…he wondered why ‘a small pocket’ of people living in the world’s ‘champion of democracy’ lacked full voting rights,” calling the practice, “Quite strange”—and Tibet isn’t exactly a bastion of democracy.
The District of Columbia does have Eleanor Holmes Norton, who acts as delegate to the U.S. Congress representing D.C., but “she basically has pretend power,” Oliver said, since she votes by committee, can’t vote on the House floor, can’t vote on tax reform, and can’t vote on whether the country should go to war.
There’s strange historical precedent here, including a clause in the U.S. Constitution granting Congress the power to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever” over the district. Residents in D.C. couldn’t even vote in presidential elections until 1964, and it took a constitutional amendment to grant them that right. Also, D.C. residents weren’t allowed to elect a mayor and City Council until July 17, 1966—when they were granted “Home Rule”—but it was still required that all legislation, including the city’s budget, be subject to congressional approval.
So for over two decades, Norton has introduced a series of bills trying to grant D.C. statehood or a vote in Congress—to no avail.
“Over the years, Congress has repeatedly stepped in when D.C. is about to do anything they disapprove of,” said Oliver.
Last November, 70 percent of D.C. voters approved Initiative 71 to legalize marijuana, but then congressional Republicans stepped in and enacted a rider preventing them from allocating funds to pass the law—which, Oliver said, doesn’t square with the Republican ethos of “limited government” and “states’ rights.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), a member of the House Oversight Committee, tried to justify stomping all over D.C.’s rights with the following explainer: “Well, Washington, D.C., is not a state. Washington, D.C., has a lot to offer, but…free rein on marijuana use? I just don’t buy that. I just don’t think that’s the way they should operate. So, states’ rights? Yes. But Washington, D.C., is not a state.”
But that isn’t even the half of it.
“The award for the most depressingly cynical thing that has ever been said about D.C. actually goes to our current president, who in 2011 avoided a government shutdown by striking a deal with John Boehner that included prohibiting D.C. from spending its own money on abortions for low-income women, saying, ‘John, I will give you D.C. abortion. I am not happy about it,’” Oliver said.
It seems that it’s been the GOP congressmen who, time and again, have sought to limit D.C.’s voting power or fought its right to statehood. Back in 2009, a bill to give D.C. a vote was introduced in the Senate, and the Senate did, according to Oliver, “the most dickish thing imaginable” by passing it with an itty-bitty addition: an amendment that would repeal all of D.C.’s gun control laws, including its ban on semi-automatic weapons; remove criminal penalties for possession of unregistered firearms; and alter its ability to enact future gun control legislation.
“As a result of that amendment, the bill was dropped, and D.C. hasn’t been close to getting a vote since,” said Oliver.
Yep. It sucks to live in D.C.