Washington, D.C., was hit by a severe winter storm this weekend. As the snow falls, adults and children alike will be free to go sledding on Capitol Hill. That may seem quite ordinary, but it’s something of a revolution in Washington, where sledding on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol has been strictly off-limits for years.
What changed? Would-be sledders have been clamoring for the ban to be lifted, so Congress effectively ended the prohibition as part of a massive $1.1 trillion spending bill approved in December. Of course, when something popular happens in Washington, someone is going to want praise. And this week, Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s delegate to Congress, has been rushing to take credit. “I’ve changed the letter of the law,” Norton told local radio station WMAL on Wednesday, adding: “This was the quickest way to ensure there would be sledding if there was snow this season.”
In case the message hadn’t been delivered loud and clear, Norton’s office released a statement on Thursday declaring that raucous sledding joy could now take place on Capitol Hill thanks to her. It read: “The office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton ... expects that District of Columbia families will take advantage of potentially record-setting snowfall tomorrow and Saturday by grabbing their sleds and heading to Capitol Hill, which is now open for sledding thanks to language Norton got in the fiscal year 2016 omnibus bill.” (Norton also praised “her good friend” Democratic Congressman Sam Farr for helping to make the change.)
Of course, members of Congress are always looking for creative ways to deliver for their districts, and then, hopefully, reap the rewards after. It’s a time-honored tradition. But for Norton, the Capitol Hill sledding coup—and her ability to talk up her role in making it happen—must feel especially rewarding. Delegates from D.C. don’t vote on the final passage of legislation; Norton is barred from performing the most essential duty of a member of Congress.
To some extent, that constraint has defined Norton’s time in Congress. In 2012, the Washington Post called it “a fact that makes her the object of sympathy, admiration and no small amount of ridicule.” It’s also a sore subject in Washington, where license plates protest “Taxation without Representation.”
Despite that limitation, Norton has developed something of a reputation for a willingness to be outspoken. And when it comes to the subject of lifting the sledding ban, she has certainly raised her voice. Last February, Norton urged Capitol police to overturn the ban. “Americans should be able to sled on America’s front lawn,” she wrote to the Capitol Police Board chair. In March, sledders showed up to Capitol Hill in defiance of the ban, initiating a “Sled Free or Die” protest. Police were on hand for the act of civil disobedience, but did not seem overly concerned. Norton was ecstatic: “No enforcement of #sledding ban on Capitol Hill today. Thank you Capitol Police!,” she wrote on Twitter at the time.
Now, Norton is celebrating again. “Attention DC kids and families: Capitol Hill sledding ban has been lifted. Go for it!,” Norton tweeted on Wednesday. Capitol Police warned Thursday that if conditions are unsafe they might have to “limit the amount of sledding.” But barring that, police will be out and about on Capitol grounds “to ensure a positive and safe experience for the young sledders.”
Other members of Congress are excited about the snowfall, too. On Friday, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan set up a live feed from his office to track the storm. But don’t expect to see hoards of lawmakers on Capitol Hill this weekend. When WMAL asked Norton if she plans to go sledding herself, she demurred: “I’m not among the kids. I’m just their congresswoman.”