LBJ proposes half a loaf of self-rule for Washington, DC

June 1, 1967. LBJ submits a plan to provide for some measure of self-rule, but not full home rule, for the District of Columbia. The fight for home rule in the nation’s capital has been going on since the 1940s, and LBJ has been advocating for it since 1965. Supporters have met significant resistance, in part due to white fears of home rule in a majority-black city.

By framing it as a reorganization, the President will be able to bypass the House District Committee, on which several members oppose the bill, in favor of the friendlier Government Operations Committee. Reorganizations cannot be amended by Congress, although they can be rejected by resolution within 60 days. This approach, although it will not result in the full home rule that LBJ advocated in his 1966 State of the Union, is a good example of the President’s belief in politics as the art of the possible. 

"The proposed reorganization is in no way a substitute for home rule. As I stated in my Message on the Nation’s Capital, the plan: 

'will give the District a better organized and more efficient government … but only home rule will provide the District with a democratic government—of, by and for its citizens.'

I remain convinced more strongly than ever that Home Rule is still the truest course. We must continue to work toward that day-when the citizens of the District will have the right to frame their own laws, manage their own affairs, and choose their own leaders. Only then can we redeem that historic pledge to give the District of Columbia full membership in the American Union.”

President Johnson’s Special Message to the Congress Transmitting Reorganization Plan 3 of 1967: Government of the District of Columbia. 

October 10, 1966. Home rule for Washington, D.C. fails for the final time in the 89th Congress, when a cloture motion to forestall a Southern filibuster falls short by 11 votes. The nation’s capital city will continue to have no local representative government and no representation in Congress. While home rule bills passed both the House and Senate in 1965, the differences between the bills proved irreconcilable both in 1965 and in 1966. LBJ considered home rule in majority-black DC to be a civil rights issue, and he had urged the adoption of the Senate bill in his 1966 State of the Union.
The battle for home rule had launched a new activist group headed by Marion Barry, the Free D.C. Movement. Some other civil rights groups, though strong supporters of home rule, were put off by the new Movement’s aggressive tactics. Staunchly aligned against home rule were Southern Senators like LBJ’s old friend Richard Russell and some powerful local organizations like the Board of Trade. LBJ’s ardent supporter—and sometime critic —Senator Wayne Morse had attached the home rule bill to a college aid bill in a last-ditch attempt at passage, but despite the support of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, among others, home rule proponents will have to wait until the next Congress to try again.
Photo by Rob Shenk via Flickr Creative Commons.

October 10, 1966. Home rule for Washington, D.C. fails for the final time in the 89th Congress, when a cloture motion to forestall a Southern filibuster falls short by 11 votes. The nation’s capital city will continue to have no local representative government and no representation in Congress. While home rule bills passed both the House and Senate in 1965, the differences between the bills proved irreconcilable both in 1965 and in 1966. LBJ considered home rule in majority-black DC to be a civil rights issue, and he had urged the adoption of the Senate bill in his 1966 State of the Union.

The battle for home rule had launched a new activist group headed by Marion Barry, the Free D.C. Movement. Some other civil rights groups, though strong supporters of home rule, were put off by the new Movement’s aggressive tactics. Staunchly aligned against home rule were Southern Senators like LBJ’s old friend Richard Russell and some powerful local organizations like the Board of Trade. LBJ’s ardent supporter—and sometime critic —Senator Wayne Morse had attached the home rule bill to a college aid bill in a last-ditch attempt at passage, but despite the support of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, among others, home rule proponents will have to wait until the next Congress to try again.

Photo by Rob Shenk via Flickr Creative Commons.