John Ensign: D.C. Vote “Has Nothing to Do…With Civil Rights”
The District's had plenty of congressional bogeymen over the years. Recent names like Sam Brownback and Richard Shelby come to mind, sure, and if you reach back a little farther, there's folks like Joel Broyhill, John McMillan, and Theodore Bilbo.
These days, Nevada Sen. John Ensign's playing the role pretty well.
Ensign's the guy who introduced the amendment to D.C. House Voting Rights Act last week that gutted that gun laws passed by the D.C. Council and signed by the mayor. It looks like his legislative maneuver has the potential to derail the larger bill, which would leave Ensign pleased as punch.
The senator strolled up to the Senate daily press gallery this afternoon to talk guns, voting rights and vouchers with a gaggle of reporters. LL was not present, but frequent City Desk commenter Ryan Grim was, and he passes on audio of the discussion.
The recording starts with a question about whether Ensign would be OK with separating the gun language from the D.C. House Voting Rights Act.
"It's best to keep it on the bill simply because if it's taken off the bill, there's no guarantee that it won't just get shoved someplace in the dark, and they can't guarantee that. We've seen that too many times."
Then things turned to vouchers. Ensign lamented the fact that it looked unlikely that the Senate would have the opportunity to strip language threatening voucher reauthorization from spending bills: "They know they can pass the reauthorization and this program dies anyway because the D.C. city council will vote to kill this bill....The problem that I have with that is that people are voting with their feet; they are saying—these families, these poor kids are saying that they want...their kids to have a better education than what the D.C. public schools are allowing."
Then a reporter raised the fact that in the rest of the country, Congress doesn't get to meddle in local educational affairs.
Responded the senator, "First of all, under the Constitution we absolutely have the constitutional authority to regulate Washington, D.C. We have that guarantee under the constitution. Now, having said that, also one of the reasons that D.C. was chosen [for vouchers] was because of the constitutional authority and to prove whether the system works."
A reporter then raised the fact that Eleanor Holmes Norton is having a civil-rights group "score" a House rules committee vote on the D.C. House Voting Rights Act, much as the National Rifle Association is threatening to.
"Well, first of all, the D.C. voting rights bill all by itself is completely unconstitutional...and if she wants to change it then she needs to change the constitution, that would be the proper forum to address it."
Would you support an amendment? asked another reporter.
"I would not support that simply because I believe that the founders wanted to see the District as not controlled by any of the states. There were a lot of political reasons that they did that and I believe that they had a lot of wisdom in doing that, and that has nothing to do in my mind with civil rights."
Ensign went on to point out that the District gets a whole lot of federal funds. To which a reporter pointed out that it can't say how much of it gets spent—"Isn't there a bit of a conflict there?"
"I go back to the constitution. The constitution didn't want the politics of the city that housed the seat of government—that was the whole compromise: Let's have a District of Columbia that was not part of the states. There was a lot of wisdom in that because they would be disproportionately powerful."
After speaking about the omnibus spending bill now wending its way through the Hill, Ensign fielded a simply question: "Is the gun amendment designed to move forward or to implode the D.C. vote legislation?"
"The gun amendment is to, figuring that the D.C. bill was moving forward and there was no way to stop it—we didn't think we could stop it—so on a bill that was moving forward, to restore the 2nd Amendment rights to people in Washington, D.C."
Then one reporter asked Ensign if he'd rather see the House Voting Rights Act defeated or see his gun legislation enacted into law.
Said Ensign, "I'd rather see the legislation go down and my legislation passed."
Any room for compromise with D.C. folks on the gun language? a reporter then asked.
"I dunno. They haven't offered it," Ensign said before expounding on the District's gun laws: "What they've done now is just made the burdens too great on gun ownership—way too burdensome, much more burdensome then anywhere....Matter of fact, I think they are more burdensome than any place in the country. and when you have the highest murder rate of anyplace in the country for decades and the strictest gun control laws, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense."
Later another reporter asked, "Do you oppose the idea of District residents having a vote in Congress?"
"Yes," Ensign replied, "because of the constitution."
He then expressed some extremely measured support for retrocession to Maryland though he did have some awareness of reality: "I understand Maryland doesn't want it."
LL's old colleague Grim then asked Ensign his opinion, given all of his meddling in District affairs, of home rule.
"I mean, there is nothing wrong with giving them some say-so over what they do," Ensign said, "but you still have to have the federal government oversight."