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District Leaders: Syria Vote Highlights Lack of Representation in Washington

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Gray and Norton spoke Monday at the D.C. War Memorial to address the lack of representation in Congress for D.C. residents and how that plays into the debate on Syria.

Over the course of her 12 terms in Congress, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., has debated whether the United States should go to war several times — in Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan — but she has never had a vote on the call to war.

As President Barack Obama presses Capitol Hill toward a strike in Syria, which Norton opposes, the congresswoman says D.C.’s lack of voting representation in the House and Senate should summon residents “to greater militancy to demand our rights as American citizens.”

If the vote fails, and the president proceeds anyway, “the citizens of the 50 states and the members of the House and the members of the Senate will have just a taste of what the residents of this city have experienced for more than two centuries,” she said Monday during an event at the D.C. War Memorial that was designed to call attention to the District’s lack of congressional representation.

“The injustice and lack of representation for the people of the District of Columbia is striking at times like this, when representatives of people living in every other part of this country are given an opportunity to weigh in on the issue of war,” said DC Vote Executive Director Kimberly Perry.

“More than other times, the call to war is when D.C. must be heard about our distinctive inequality. The outcry that the president not strike Syria without a vote from the Congress spotlights intensely the denial of democratic rights that our citizens have faced in every war the nation has fought except the Revolutionary War,” Norton said.

If she were able to cast a vote, Norton said Monday, she could not vote for a strike on Syria, even though after attending a briefing on the subject she believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad did attack his own people with chemical weapons.

“I don’t want to trivialize that ... but the unknowns here are horrendous,” she said. Norton is worried about a potential response from Syria and the fate of the volatile Middle East. She also questioned whether “the emphasis on a targeted, limited strike would do any good.

“I think that the administration has a very long way to go to convince members of the Senate or the House. I just hope that the president can find a way to use the threat to engage in diplomacy. I am extremely worried that we are alone essentially.”

Norton was joined Monday at the 47-foot-tall, domed memorial — the one structure on the National Mall dedicated to D.C. residents — by District leaders, statehood activists and D.C. veterans.

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