D.C. Bill Faces Unclear Future

Posted March 23, 2007 at 6:31pm

After Republicans managed on Thursday to stall a bill that would give the District of Columbia a full vote in the House, supporters are aiming to bring the measure back to the floor for a vote this week.

One reason: The House is scheduled to recess next week and voting rights supporters want to send the bill to the Senate before then.

But as of Friday afternoon, nothing was set in stone, and a Democratic leadership aide said when or how the bill would return to the floor for a vote remained unclear.

“We’re working to bring it back to the floor as soon as possible,” the aide said.

A spokeswoman for Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), confirmed Friday that plans remained up in the air.

“The hope is for next week,” Norton spokeswoman Doxie McCoy said.

The District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act would grant Democratic-leaning D.C. a full vote in the House while also giving an at-large seat to Utah, which tends to vote Republican. (Utah just missed getting an additional seat following the 2000 Census.)

But opponents of the bill argued on the House floor Thursday that granting representation to a non-state is unconstitutional. Many also took issue with giving Utah an at-large seat, saying residents there would effectively get two votes in the House.

House Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) led the Republican charge against the bill by offering a motion to recommit that would have repealed the city’s longtime ban on handguns.

That prompted Democrats to postpone a vote on the bill indefinitely, out of fear that Democrats from conservative districts would vote in favor of the gun ban repeal. If that vote had been successful, it would have sent the bill back to committee, where supporters fear it would die.

Republicans were able to put forth such a motion because Democrats added language to the bill Wednesday to offset spending for the Utah seat. That opened the bill up to other language — otherwise the gun ban motion would not have been germane.

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

“House Republicans remain fully prepared to debate and vote on any proposal affecting the citizens of the District of Columbia,” Boehner said.

Davis last week said he anticipated some sort of move against the bill. But he added that supporters would be able to overcome the motion.

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

Voting rights advocates said Friday that the Republican maneuver only spurred them to increase their activity on behalf of the bill.

“Folks aren’t going to take this lying down,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of the group DC Vote. “What’s going to happen is you are going to see a stepping up.”

Even if the bill passes the House, it could face serious obstacles in the Senate, especially after the White House released a statement last week saying that advisers to President Bush would recommend he veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

But Zherka and others remained undeterred by such threats. Voting rights supporters have increased their phone calls and e-mails to Members’ offices in recent days in support of the bill, Zherka said.

“The level of intensity on our side is increasing, and I think the challenge for everybody on the proponents’ side is to keep our bipartisan coalition together,” Zherka added.

In a statement released late Friday afternoon, the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute Chairwoman Donna Brazile promised that Democrats would work to get D.C. a vote.

“The United States stands alone now as the only democracy that prohibits its residents in the capital city from having a voice in the affairs of state,” said Brazile, a Roll Call contributing writer. “This is unacceptable in the 21st century and Democrats will continue to work to ensure this legislation’s passage.”