After meeting, Muriel Bowser says Boehner is more interested in ‘national agenda’ than D.C. marijuana vote

District of DeBonis

After meeting, Muriel Bowser says Boehner is more interested in ‘national agenda’ than D.C. marijuana vote

By Mike DeBonis, Washington, Post, January 27 at 3:37 PM

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser met with House Speaker John Boehner on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. (File photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser climbed Capitol Hill on Tuesday for a series of meetings with federal lawmakers — including two Democrats holding ranking positions on key committees, as well as the man who, more than any other, controls the fate of District matters in Congress: House Speaker John A. Boehner.

After the meetings, Bowser (D) said she was encouraged that Boehner (R-Ohio) was too busy dealing with the national issues on his plate — including soon-to-lapse homeland security appropriations and an expiring debt ceiling authorization — to try to micromanage District affairs. That includes, she said, the marijuana legalization initiative passed by D.C. voters on Nov. 4, which is now on Capitol Hill for a 30-legislative-day review period.

“He really reiterated his focus on a national agenda, and we talked about some things that are important to us,” Bowser said. “[Marijuana] came up in that I expressed to him, certainly, our interest in respecting the will of the voters. And I think that, again, his focus is not on the local affairs of D.C.”

Boehner was more eager to talk about one of his longtime pet issues: the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, aka vouchers for private school tuition funded by Congress. “They discussed a range of issues, but the speaker’s top priority was continued support of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships,” said spokesman Michael Steel.

The voucher program has been a point of friction between congressional Republicans, who support maintaining and expanding the program, and national Democrats, who oppose the program on ideological grounds — including that many vouchers are used at religious schools. The Obama administration has proposed ending the program, but it has been preserved for current enrollees after budget negotiations with Republicans.

Boehner has spoken passionately about his support for Catholic schools and has made the voucher program a matter of personal interest. Meanwhile, Bowser did not sound inclined Tuesday to insert herself into the voucher battle.

“I’ve been a supporter of vouchers in the District of Columbia … if only for the children who are in the program. I think that the program should live up to its promise and allow them to matriculate,” she said. “When the Opportunity Scholarships were first introduced, I think our school system was in a very different place. I actually think that the quality and choice in our city has improved very much since then, and that’s one reason why we’re attracting families to the District of Columbia and to our public schools, all of them.”

Bowser was accompanied on her visits by her transition co-chair, Beverly Perry, and by her new director of federal and regional affairs, LaDavia Drane.

Before meeting with Boehner in his Capitol office, they met with Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Both panels have jurisdiction over D.C. affairs.

Carper said after his meeting with the new mayor that the marijuana initiative was not among the topics that came up. Instead, he said, they focused on “issues of fairness.”

“The idea that if the federal government is having a shutdown, how does that affect the District of Columbia — is that fair?” he said. “If the federal government having problems with our budget and our budget process, and it negatively impacts the District of Columbia, is that fair? Those are the kinds of issues that we discussed.”

More generally, Carper said, they spoke about keeping the District’s interests protected in a Congress now solidly controlled by a party generally seen as hostile to D.C. autonomy.

“I think she can be a very good ambassador for the District of Columbia,” Carper said. “She has a very winning way about her, and I would just urge her not to be a stranger her on Capitol Hill. And I think she can do a lot of good for the District of Columbia just by her personal presence.”

Bowser said the main thrust of the Boehner meeting was to start establishing that presence: “I wanted to make sure that he knows me and keep an open line of communication between the two of us if there are ever any issues in the District.”

She would not say if they swapped cellphone numbers, but, she said, “I feel like I can get him when we need him.”

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