Wednesday December 6, 2023

Bipartisan Support for RFK Stadium Bill Grows in Congress

  • Bill is crucial to D.C.’s effort to lure the Washington Commanders back and pick up more co-sponsors.
  • Another House committee will debate the bill on Wednesday.
A general view of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium Stadium.
Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports
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Congress again holds some sway over the Washington Commanders — at least regarding a possible return to D.C. 

The House Oversight Committee — the same body that investigated the team and owner Dan Snyder under its previous leadership — will consider a bill Wednesday that could prove pivotal to D.C.’s effort to lure the Commanders to the old RFK Stadium site. 

Rep. James Comer (R-Kentucky) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced the bill in July. Comer chairs the Oversight Committee, and Holmes is a committee member, as is another early co-sponsor, Rep. Jake LaTurner (R-Kansas). 

The response to the bill is also in stark contrast to when the Oversight Committee spent several months investigating the Commanders. In December, the then-Democratic-led committee concluded the Commanders committed a “troubling, long-running, and potentially unlawful pattern of financial conduct,” and Snyder had fostered a hostile work environment. 

On Monday, 12 more House members became co-sponsors. As Congress faces another government shutdown deadline, the RFK bill is a rare bipartisan piece of legislation, with nine Republicans and six Democrats backing the bill. 

Comer, who took over the Oversight Committee in January as the House flipped, declined to forward a criminal referral for Snyder in August. 

“It is very clear what their priorities are – Democrats are more concerned with using Committee resources to target a private sports workplace than investigating the corruption of the sitting President of the United States,” Comer said.

The bill doesn’t mention the Commanders, NFL, or even football, but it is necessary to make D.C. a player as Maryland and Virginia make early moves to appeal to the franchise that Josh Harris acquired in July.

The RFK Stadium site sits on National Park Service land, and Congress has to pass legislation for a new 99-year lease allowing D.C. to utilize the land. 

If passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by President Biden, H.R. 4984 allows D.C. to use the land for a stadium, commercial and residential development, and public recreation. 

D.C. Department of General Services Acting Director Delano Hunter was non-committal on what the District intends to do with land when the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands discussed the bill at a Tuesday hearing

“The reason why we’re really excited about this bill is what it can do for recreation,” Hunter testified. “It provides an opportunity to really transform how we do recreation here in the city. ….  I think that this bill contemplates robust recreation opportunities.”

Hunter added that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser “is on the record in support of returning” the Commanders to the RFK site, where the team played for 36 seasons. At the season opener, Bowser hung out with Josh Harris, his wife, Marjorie, and co-owner Magic Johnson. 

“Mayor Bowser also unequivocally supports this legislation,” Hunter said in his opening remarks on Tuesday. “However, to become a reality, the work of this committee and, indeed, this Congress is essential.”

The Commanders exited RFK after the 1996 NFL season for FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. Harris and his 20 co-owners who paid $6.05 billion for the Commanders own FedEx Field and the 200 acres around it. 

The RFK site is between 142-190 acres, depending on how the site is defined, and a new stadium — on top of likely being domed — will have a bigger footprint than RFK Stadium. The stadium has sat vacant for six years and is still in the process of being demolished. 

One of the requirements of the legislation is designating “at least 30 percent of the campus as parks and open space.” 

Whether a modern NFL stadium is workable on the site is just one of many factors that Commanders, owners, and execs will consider, along with public financing, transportation, and fan approval. 

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