A coalition of D.C. leaders and activists, wary of the potential for congressional Republicans to impose special restrictions on the District government, went on the offensive against their Capitol Hill rivals on Tuesday and accused the GOP of forsaking the principles of limited government.
"The District is, for our opponents, no more than a vehicle they have chosen to express their views while denying us the same rights through our local laws," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting member of the House. "By working together, we have shown our opponents that we are not mere prey for schoolyard bullies of the Congress who gang up on the District."
At a Capitol Hill news conference staged while both the House and Senate were away for a lengthy recess, Mayor Vincent Gray condemned Congress' treatment of the District as "unfair, untenable and unconscionable."
He added: "The District of Columbia ought to be freed from this bondage."
Most of the District's ire is tied to the repeated use of "riders" in spending bills that would place limits on the local government when it comes to abortion, gun control and needle exchange programs.
"It's time to end this unfair use of federal power," said Kimberly Perry, executive director of DC Vote, an advocacy group. "The District of Columbia is not a policy playground for Congress."
But House Republicans have routinely said that they have clear authority to set boundaries for the District.
"Home rule doesn't transcend the U.S. Constitution," said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., in a 2012 interview after he proposed restricting abortions in the District, an effort that ultimately failed.
And Florida Rep. John Mica, also a Republican, drew criticism earlier this year after he compared District residents and their leaders to his teenage children, comments for which he later apologized.
Although Norton praised Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., for his attempts to partner with District officials, she accused other GOP lawmakers of hypocrisy.
"We thought we would find allies among our Republican colleagues, particularly as the Tea Party Republicans controlled the House, because we thought that they would revere local control over federal power," she said. "We have seen that their principles stop at the District line."
But more than two years after Gray and other city officials were arrested for blocking traffic during a protest on Constitution Avenue, activists said they had no plans for a similar display -- yet.
"Is there a secret civil disobedience strategy currently being planned? The answer to that is, 'We hope not, because we hope these attacks won't come forward,' " Perry said. "But if they do, we will figure out what the best tactic is to move ahead with."