D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser attempted to take control of the District of Columbia’s National Guard last year, with the stated goal of addressing a surge in illegal immigrants from Texas and Arizona, by pressuring the White House.
However, Bowser and the city government left leaders of the D.C. National Guard in the dark about the details of her plan, according to documents obtained by The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.)
Bowser, a Democrat, earlier sought control of the D.C. National Guard as part of her home rule agenda in 2021 and 2022. A bill to give the mayor that control passed the Democrat-run House during both years, but failed in the Senate.
Bowser previously had pushed for control of the Guard after the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. But by spring and summer of 2022, the mayor’s reasoning shifted to dealing with the city’s illegal immigration crisis.
At one point, she suggested to the Biden White House that such use of the Guard would be “much like the response to aid refugees from Afghanistan.”
“We must get statehood on the president’s desk within the first 100 days of the 117th Congress,” Bowser told reporters during a press conference Jan. 7, 2021, the day after the riot and less than two weeks before President Joe Biden took office.
“Congress must immediately transfer command of the District of Columbia National Guard from the president of the United States and put it squarely under the command and control of the mayor of the District of Columbia,” Bowser added.
Heritage’s Oversight Project obtained emails and other documents related to Bowser and the National Guard through a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
The mayor’s office planned her request last year to the Biden White House for Guard troops about two months before sending a formal letter, although a senior Guard official said he wasn’t aware of the city government’s plan.
As part of an exchange of text messages on May 24 and 25, 2022, Jim Slattery, the mayor’s correspondence officer, wrote to another city official: “Touching base on my revised edits to the White House letter re Texas migrants I sent last night.”
Nevertheless, in a July 2022 email—three days after Bowser sent her letter to the White House requesting assistance with illegal aliens bused into the city from Texas and Arizona—a D.C. National Guard official asked the mayor’s office what the plan was.
“What’s Mayor Bowser’s plan as far as the communications side of this?” the Guard official asked.
Three days later, the Guard was asking the mayor’s office about receiving “some heads up on the announcement” of Bowser’s request for troops to deal with the flood of illegal immigrants.
Granting the mayor control of the Guard is a “delusional idea” that Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and the Senate so far have not bought into, said Roman Jankowski, senior investigative counsel of The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project.
“Mayor Bowser wrongfully used Texas’ busing of illegal immigrants [to the nation’s capital] as a justification to command the D.C. National Guard, but in all likelihood it was just a power grab to become the first governor of Washington, D.C.,” Jankowski told The Daily Signal.
“Since Jan. 7, 2021, Bowser has stated that Congress must immediately transfer command of the District of Columbia National Guard from the president of the United States and put it squarely under the command and control of the mayor of the District of Columbia and give D.C. statehood,” Jankowski added. “It appears that the D.C. National Guard was never contacted about the illegal immigration issue, even though [D.C. officials] were working on this letter to the president and secretary of defense for months.”
The mayor’s office didn’tt respond to inquiries from The Daily Signal for this report.
However, a D.C. National Guard spokesperson said the Guard stays in touch with the mayor’s office when a crisis or other serious incident occurs in the District.
“Once determined that assistance is needed, the mayor’s office sends requests directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense for approval,” the Guard spokesperson told The Daily Signal in an email.
“While awaiting approval, the D.C. National Guard and the mayor’s office continue to communicate and foster an effective partnership, whether the request is approved or not,” the Guard spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said that process also applies to the city government’s request for Guard troops to help respond to the influx of illegal immigrants.
On July 14, 2022, the Democrat-controlled House passed a defense funding bill giving the D.C. mayor authority over the D.C. National Guard.
Supporters argued that such authority would have allowed the mayor to stop the Capitol riot. However, the measure would die in a House-Senate conference committee crafting the final version of the defense spending bill.
Five days after the House vote, on July 19, Christopher Rodriguez, director of the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, wrote to the executive secretariat in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
“On behalf of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, I am writing to request the assistance of the D.C. National Guard (DCNG) to help prevent a prolonged humanitarian crisis in the nation’s capital,” Rodriguez’s letter states.
The letter goes on to criticize Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and then-Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, both Republicans, for busing illegal immigrants to the nation’s capital, which designated itself a sanctuary city. The transportation initiatives by the two Republican governors asked illegal aliens to volunteer to be sent by bus to the District.
About 4,000 individuals had arrived on almost 200 buses and the city was reaching a “tipping point,” Rodriguez wrote to Austin’s office.
“Specifically, we seek 150 DCNG personnel per day to assist the lead NGO [nongovernmental organization] with staffing, utilizing shift schedules to cover a 24/7 operation,” the city’s emergency management official wrote.
On July 22, Bowser sent a letter to two White House officials: Liz Sherwood-Randall, assistant to the president for homeland security, and Julie Chavez Rodriguez, director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. The mayor’s letter referenced a meeting the day before between White House officials and her leadership team.
“I continue to stress my request for the DCNG [D.C. National Guard] to lead the response in a facility identified by the federal government, much like the response to aid refugees from Afghanistan,” Bowser wrote to the two White House officials. “Having the DCNG assume leadership will result in a strong and compassionate response that makes the full resources of the federal government readily available.”
However, a July 25 email shows that the D.C. National Guard was not informed about the mayor’s plan to assume authority over personnel.
That day, U.S. Army National Guard Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, a public affairs officer, replied to an email from then-D.C. Deputy Chief of External Affairs Gabe Lugo and Bowser’s director of communications at the time, LaToya Foster.
Lugo had suggested that the two coordinate on messaging. Mitchell wanted to know how.
“I do have a question regarding the city’s stance on the recent migrant-related request for assistance,” Mitchell asked Foster and Lugo in the reply. “What’s Mayor Bowser’s plan as far as the communications side of this?”
Mitchell said in the same July 25 email that he was filling in as a public affairs officer for the D.C. National Guard until a full-time replacement could be hired. He said his regular job was as public affairs officer at the National Guard Bureau, or NGB, the federal agency run jointly by the Army and Air Force and responsible for administering National Guard units across the country. Mitchell noted that he had worked for the Guard since 2003.
“Do you plan to be fairly aggressive in terms of publicizing this request?” Mitchell wrote to the mayor’s aides. “Or do you plan to take a more wait-and-see approach? I ask because it will help me advise my bosses at DCNG and NGB.”
Three days later, Mitchell asked Foster whether Bowser’s team would give the D.C. National Guard a “heads up” on when she planned to make an announcement about requesting Guard troops to help respond to the arrival of illegal immigrants from Texas and Arizona.
“If possible, it’d be great if you could give us some heads up on announcements affecting the D.C. National Guard,” he wrote, “just so I can have people at the DOD [Department of Defense] and the National Guard Bureau prepared to respond.”
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