The District still doesn't have a vote in Congress, but it's moving closer to gaining some new representatives in the Capitol.
The House Administration Committee is expected to approve a bill Wednesday that would add two statues from D.C. to the National Statuary Hall Collection, which includes statues of historical luminaries from each of the 50 states. About a third of the 100 statues reside in Statuary Hall, an ornate domed room on the second floor of the Capitol, while the rest are in nearby hallways and the Capitol Visitor Center.
Because the District is not a state, it has thus far been deprived of the chance to put two of its native sons or daughters in the halls of Congress. But Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) has led a years-long fight to correct that, and the city picked its two representatives -- abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass and Pierre L'Enfant, the architect who designed the city -- four years ago. The statues have been sculpted, at a combined cost of about $200,000, and have been sitting in the lobby of One Judiciary Square awaiting their chance to move into the Capitol.
"I don't think there's much to say here except we want the same statues that citizens of other states see when they come to their Capitol," Norton said in an interview Tuesday.
The House Administration Committee will vote on a bill by Norton that would invite the District "to provide and furnish statues, in marble or bronze, not exceeding 2 in number, of deceased persons who have been citizens thereof, and illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services, such as the District of Columbia may deem to be worthy of this national commemoration; and when so furnished, the same shall be placed in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol."
Past versions of the bill introduced by Norton said the District's statues should be placed "in the same manner as statues honoring citizens of the States." The new version of the measure includes no mention of the word "states" -- an interesting omission given the ongoing debate over D.C. statehood -- though Norton's office said there was no substantive difference between the new bill and the old ones.
Republicans on the Administration panel are not expected to oppose Norton's bill. But the committee's ranking GOP lawmaker, Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.), is expected to offer an amendment that would reduce the District's statue quota from two to one, while also extending the same privilege to Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories that are similarly unrepresented in Statuary Hall.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) pledged Tuesday that after Norton's bill clears committee, it "will come to the floor relatively soon. And my expectation is that it will pass." There is no indication if or when the Senate would take up the bill.
Norton began trying to win space in Statuary Hall several years ago but the issue had taken a back seat to the effort to secure District voting rights in the House. That movement is currently stalled, as supporters of gun rights -- led by the National Rifle Association -- are unwilling to let a voting measure move through Congress without attaching language that would nullify most of the city's gun control laws.
Norton said she had gotten no indication that that NRA and its allies would seek to interfere with the statues bill as well, though she said she was checking on that front. And she vowed to continue working to pass a voting rights bill and other items.
"We are proceeding on the rest of the D.C. empowerment agenda," Norton said, though she wouldn't specify what other bills might come up soon.