D.C. Vote Bill Pulled From House Floor Over Gun Control Issue

Posted March 22, 2007 at 4:02pm

A measure that would grant the District of Columbia a full vote in the House was effectively stalled today when Republicans put forth a procedural motion to tie the bill to the controversial D.C. gun ban.

Following hours of debate on the D.C. vote measure, House Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) offered a motion to recommit that would repeal the city’s longtime ban on handguns.

Democrats then pulled the bill, postponing a vote on the measure indefinitely.

If the legislation had moved forward with such an attachment, the entire bill would have been in jeopardy, as dozens of Democrats from conservative districts would have had to address gun rights, said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.).

But Davis, who introduced the voting rights measure with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), added that he was not surprised by the Republican-backed move.

“It’s a ploy,” Davis said. “It’s politics. … Everybody was playing their best hand here, and the hand is still out.”

Republicans were only able to put forth the motion to recommit on the gun ban because of language Democrats added to the bill Wednesday to offset spending for Utah’s new seat, which effectively opened up the bill for other language. Otherwise, the motion to recommit would have been considered non-germane to the voting rights measure.

Still, there are a number of ways that Democrats could return the bill to the floor, Norton said, including by reintroducing the measure with rules that would prohibit similar attachments.

“You’ve got to be grown up in the Congress, and this is how the sides jockey,” Norton said.

The bill likely will not be taken up again today, as several hours of debate are expected on the Iraq supplemental bill.

But after that, things remain up in the air. A spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that action to bring the bill back to the floor is expected “soon.” In a statement, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) pledged his support for the measure would continue. “This temporary delay achieves no other goal than to demonstrate once again that House Republicans are indifferent to the injustice that exists right at the Capitol’s own doorstep, and perpetuates the international embarassment of treating the people of our nation’s capital as second-class citizens,” Hoyer said. Norton said she didn’t expect a lengthy delay on the bill, later adding: “It was totally unnecessary, because the Republicans know they are going to lose.”

Davis blamed the setback on a lack of communication between leadership from both parties.

“It shows the huge partisan divide between leaders to sit down and work things out,” Davis said.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Democrats “shamefully exploited” rules allowing them to indefinitely postpone the debate.

“This is only the latest in a troubling string of failures by Democrats to keep their promises to the American people,” Boehner said in a statement. “House Republicans remain fully prepared to debate and vote on any proposal affecting the citizens of the District of Columbia.”

The District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act would give D.C. a full-voting House member as well as grant Utah an at-large seat. (Utah narrowly missed gaining a fourth representative after the 2000 Census.)

The motion to recommit emerged after several hours of debate on the House floor. A floor vote had been scheduled, with Democrats expressing confidence they would pass the measure.

Republican opponents argued that the Constitution only allows states to have full-voting Representatives in Congress, and the District is not a state.

In addition, some opponents argued that the move to give Utah an at-large seat would be unconstitutional, as Utah residents would effectively have two votes in Congress.

“The Constitution is not a cafeteria,” said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas). “You simply cannot pick and choose the parts you are going to respect.”

But supporters of the measure argued the Constitution’s District Clause gives Congress the authority to grant D.C. a voting Representative in the House.

“We are correcting a wrong, an illness,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). “We are correcting a disease.”

If the bill eventually passes the House, it could face a more difficult time in the Senate, where support for the measure isn’t entirely clear.

White House officials also have said they would advise President Bush to veto the bill if it were to reach his desk.

But supporters have maintained they will continue to advocate for the measure. A march for the bill is expected to take place on April 16, and advocates said at a press conference Thursday afternoon they will continue to fight for the measure.

“I know that we are going to win,” Norton said. “And I have to tell you, nothing can take it away.”