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D.C. Tries to Convince Obama on ‘Taxation Without Representation’ Tags

A few weeks ago, local activists launched a petition to compel President Barack Obama to swap, before Inauguration Day, the current license plates on his official vehicles for plates bearing the city motto, “Taxation Without Representation.”

A few days ago, the D.C. Council unanimously passed a resolution expressing its sense that Obama make the switch on his official vehicles.

Councilmembers Phil Mendelson and Mary Cheh, both Democrats, were summoned to the White House Friday for a private meeting with Intergovernmental Affairs Director David Agnew.

To have a private audience with a senior administration official was encouraging, Mendelson and Cheh said at a press conference at the John A. Wilson Building — the D.C. government headquarters — after the meeting.

Cheh called it “quite agreeable.”

“We spoke frankly and it was informal and I thought a very good conversation,” she said.

It’s not clear yet what might actually come from all this.

Though Obama has stated his support for expanded rights for the District of Columbia in the past, his team has never explained why the “Taxation Without Representation” tags are not displayed on the presidential limousine. An explanation was not offered at Friday’s meeting, Mendelson and Cheh said.

Agnew didn’t give a clear indication that the switch would ever be made, or when the D.C. Council might expect to hear back one way or the other.

“It was our expectation that they were not going to make any promises to us, and they did not,” Mendelson said. But he added that he was “hopeful that we will get a favorable response.”

Mendelson and Cheh insisted they were not deterred by the uncertainty. It was a good opportunity, they said, to explain why Obama’s embrace of D.C. license plates would be an important, if symbolic, gesture of his solidarity with a city that is without a vote in Congress and many of the other freedoms enjoyed by the 50 states.

“I pointed out it’s a stated fact: We pay taxes and we are subject to taxation where we have no vote,” Cheh said. “And that is unheard of in democracies around the world. We pay the highest per capita tax of any jurisdiction; I pointed out our population exceeds that of other states.”

It’s been a little more than a decade since the city adopted the license plate slogan with the intent of raising awareness about the District’s lack of voting rights and statehood status. President Bill Clinton embraced the new license plates in the final months of his term, but President George W. Bush replaced them with more generic tags when he took over.

In late December, DC Vote, the city’s leading local autonomy advocacy group, launched an online White House petition urging Obama to outfit his presidential limousine with the “Taxation Without Representation” license plate in time for his Jan. 21 swearing-in ceremony for his second term in office. If the petition gets 25,000 votes by Jan. 18, the administration will offer an official response.

As of Friday evening, there were only 3,294 votes cast.