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Vince Gray and Eleanor Holmes Norton held a press conference in front of the Capitol today to urge the Senate to pass a bill to fund the District during the government shutdown. When his own press conference ended, though, Gray had an idea—-why not make it two?
So the mayor and Norton, followed by their entourages and reporters, crashed a nearby press conference held by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats. Gray took a spot next to Reid; Shadow Sen. Paul Strauss, also at the earlier press conference, stood next to his would-be Senate colleagues.
As Gray made his case to Reid, Reid responded, “Don’t screw this up,” according to the Post. Reid declined to say what he meant.
LL has a guess, though. At his own press conference before he crashed Reid’s, Gray had stood next to Republican Rep. Darrell Issa as he criticized the Democratic-led Senate for holding up the District spending bill, which has already passed the House.
“Every worker and every citizen of the District of Columbia needs to be counted as essential,” Issa said.
Teaming up with Issa and crashing the press conference was a bold move for Gray, but it’s one he only picked because he looks to have opted not to do something even more brazen: keeping the D.C. government open without federal approval, an idea he considered at one point. Gray had declared the entire District workforce essential in his shutdown plan, but the White House Office of Management and Budget hasn’t approved it. Which means that when the city spends the last dollars in its $144 million reserve fund (money that was appropriated to D.C. in previous years, then banked), it won’t have any legal authority to keep operating. Without federal approval, District Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi is expected to refused to release back the funds to keep the city running.
That hasn’t kept advocates of that approach, including lobbying group DC Vote and Councilmember David Grosso, from criticizing Gray. In a press release today, Grosso said he wouldn’t attend the press conference because of the mayor’s “capitulation” to Congress.
“I know he’s new to the Council, but he should read the Home Rule Charter,” responds mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro.
Gray says he hasn’t heard back from President Barack Obama or Reid on his request to meet with them about the shutdown.
If D.C. does eventually have to close nonessential services, trash would only be collected every other week, libraries and recreation centers would close, the Department of Motor Vehicles would shutter, and parking enforcement would cease. As the only municipality in the country that also fills many state functions, D.C. has already stopped paying debts to Medicaid providers and others, because its entire budget is essentially being held hostage by the shutdown.
Photo by Will Sommer