Sherwood's Notebook: Cows on the National Mall…Stat!

There’s no time to lose.

The fate of the nation’s capital may be at stake.

And maybe throw in a few corn stalks and a hog pen.

The National Mall needs to become a 4-H Club habitat ASAP.

Forget the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair; we need rural America on the Mall now.

Why this alarm?

A member of Congress last week suggested the U.S. Department of Agriculture should be moved to Iowa because he doesn’t see cows or corn in Washington.

“Now I’ve been in Washington, this is my third year, I’ve yet to see a cow, a hog in Washington, D.C., or a corn plant or a soybean plant in Washington, D.C.,” declared Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa, during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing last week. “It seems to me the USDA should be located somewhere in the Midwest.”

That was one of the high points or low points of a committee meeting last week. The majority passed a resolution by committee chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, that says federal agencies looking to relocate should not be restricted to the District or Washington suburbs.

“I’m sorry there are not enough cows to satisfy,” mocked Northern Virginia Rep. Gerald Connolly. “Give me cows!” he shouted. Connolly wasn’t done. He suggested the whole Congress go on the road, appearing in different states for six months each “to be closer to the people.”

“Laughable,” asserted D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of the notion to strip the nation’s capital of its reason for being. Norton also noted it was Rep. Blum who saw all the building cranes in Southwest and thought the federal government was overspending. (It’s private development.)

More seriously, it was pointed out the U.S. Constitution mandates a seat of government, and that 85 percent of federal employees already are dispersed around the nation. How practical would it be if major Cabinet members were scattered around the country, inaccessible to Congress, the president and the daily affairs of government?

Connolly said that despite any public contempt of Washington, “this is about sacred ground,” the birth of our nation: “The capital is a beacon around the world.”

It’s also not just a parochial interest in keeping the government here and benefiting from the economic spinoff. Bottom line, the resolution displays a stunning lack of knowledge — or respect for — the very government that members of Congress are supposed to oversee.

A former Environmental Protection Agency official summed up the issue in a letter Sunday to The Washington Post.

“This just demonstrates ignorance of how federal agencies operate,” Phyllis Anderson wrote. “There are regional and local offices for every federal agency. At the EPA, our 10 regional offices are each led by a Senate-confirmed administrator. The bulk of EPA resources go out to the regions and states via grant programs. If members of Congress researched the agencies they oversee, they would see how ludicrous and pandering such a proposal is.”

California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa tried to strike a middle ground. He said he wasn’t “enamored” with the resolution. It’s obvious the federal government is headquartered in the nation’s capital, he said. Any move of people or resources should be carefully considered.

The resolution passed the committee along party lines. Whether it gets any traction on the House floor or in the Senate remains to be seen. Some committee members suggested Chairman Chaffetz ought to be focusing on the “serious” business of the committee he heads.

■ Phone a friend. Chaffetz also was ridiculed in the news last week for another reason. In the debate over replacing Obamacare, Chaffetz was quoted saying people “should invest in their own health care” instead of “getting a new iPhone.” And he reinforced his view in a subsequent interview, saying, “People need to make a conscious choice, and I believe in self-reliance.”

■ Put a Cork in It. There’s lots of discussion about whether President Trump’s businesses are improperly benefiting from his office. Two D.C. restaurateurs are making a federal case of it.

Cork Wine Bar owners Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts have filed a lawsuit against Trump’s new D.C. hotel. The unfair competition suit contends Trump’s affiliation is driving business to the president’s hotel, business that might go to other venues except for the “pressure” to patronize the president’s businesses.

Trump’s organization called the suit “a wild publicity stunt completely lacking in legal merit.”

■ The Politics Hour. Be sure to tune into the WAMU 88.5 Politics Hour on Friday at noon. Host Kojo Nnamdi and your Notebook will be interviewing Mayor Muriel Bowser. Email questions in advance at or tweet to @kojoshow.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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