GOP May Sue Over Delegates’ Vote
After a contentious floor debate Wednesday, the House voted to give the chamber’s five Delegates the right to vote in the Committee of the Whole — but Republicans are considering challenging the rules change in court.
The House passed the measure, 226 -191, after a series of protests from Republicans, who claimed the vote was an unconstitutional power grab by the new majority.
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who spent much of his week rallying against the proposal, called it “flawed policy” and said Republicans will continue to fight it.
“At this point, because there are internal rules, the only option we have is through the courts,” Price said. “We’ll be in discussions with that.”
According to the rules change, Democratic Dels. Madeleine Bordallo (Guam), Donna Christian-Christensen (V.I.), Eni Faleomavaega (America Samoa) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), along with Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño (R-P.R.), can vote on amendments to bills but not the final passage. Plus, if a Delegate casts the deciding vote on a bill, the Delegate votes are thrown out and a revote takes place.
Democrats argued that the vote is a symbolic gesture to the nearly 5 million Americans who live in Washington, D.C., and the territories.
“What are we really giving them? A chance to participate in democracy,” said Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), who was born in Puerto Rico. “How can we be willing to spread democracy around the world when we can’t spread it here?”
Christian-Christensen said she is pleased to get the vote and called Republican arguments against the measure unfounded.
“None of their arguments were really good arguments,” she said. “The only thing I can go back to is the politics. I think they should have been honest and said, ‘We don’t want to have four Democratic Delegates.’”
If Republicans decide to go to court, it won’t be the first time the Committee of the Whole vote has been challenged.
The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the rules change after it was enacted during the 103rd Congress, with judges writing it does not go against the Constitution because it does not affect the overall outcome of a vote.
With that history behind him, Faleomavaega said he welcomes sending the measure back to the courts.
“I must say that I have never seen such a more divisive issue before the House for consideration,” he said. “And I feel really bad… all we wanted was the symbolic vote.”
Republicans threw out the vote when they took power after the 1994 elections. But GOP leaders said Wednesday that if the rules change were to reach the Supreme Court, they are confident it would be struck down.
Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) led much of the floor protest, criticizing Democrats — specifically the Rules Committee, of which he is ranking member — for not bringing in Congressional experts and other observers to discuss the merits of the measure.
The Californian added that he does not believe the bill passes constitutional muster.
“If they want to vote in this body, Mr. Speaker, they should pursue statehood, plain and simple,” Dreier said of the Delegates.
Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the measure an “outrageous grab of power” that creates a “breach of trust of the Members here.”
“It saddens me there was no discussion about this with the minority,” Boehner said, adding that Republicans got word of the proposal on Friday only when Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) released the weekly calendar.
Dreier also said he was disappointed Democrats did not withdraw an amendment presented in the Rules Committee by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), even after Kirk submitted a letter requesting the committee do so. The amendment would have required the House Clerk certify in writing that the constituents of the delegates are covered by the federal tax code.
But one Democratic leadership aide said that things were handled correctly and the Republican outcry was unjustified.
“I think they’re just trying to adjust to being in the minority, to be honest,” the aide said.
That outcry seemed ironic to Christian-Christensen, especially because the Delegate with the most constituents — Fortuño, who represents about 4 million people — is a Republican, she said.
For Norton, the symbolic measure is far from her ultimate goal of obtaining a full House vote with the D.C. Fair and Equal House Voting Rights Act.
In an emotional six-minute speech on the House floor Wednesday morning, Norton criticized the way House leaders handled the rules change, which she said needlessly divided “the people’s House about a right to vote settled 14 years ago.”
“I say to my friends on the other side, ‘There is nothing left to debate about,’” Norton said.
The Delegate grew angrier as she discussed the need for a swift vote on the D.C. voting-rights act.
“Why isn’t H.R. 328 the first bill out of the Democratic Congress?” she asked.
Hoyer, who introduced the Delegate measure, said he is dedicated to giving D.C. a full vote “and we will address that shortly.”
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who is sponsoring the D.C. voting-rights bill with Norton, argued against the new Delegate power.
“To the cynic in me, this resolution smacks of obfuscation,” Davis said. “What the majority is doing today threatens to delay action on the real injustice that has plagued the District for more than two centuries.”
For Bordallo, the new power is worthwhile.
“This is a step forward,” she said.