D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray speaks during a news conference Monday in this photo tweeted by the mayor's office. (Mayor's office, via Twitter)
September 9, 2013

The pending congressional vote on military action in Syria offered occasion for city officials to renew their calls for District voting rights Monday, with the city’s congressional delegate saying she has grave doubts about the course of action proposed by President Obama.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) spoke in a wooded West Potomac Park grove, standing next to the D.C. War Memorial commemorating the city’s combat dead dating back to World War I.

Using words including “injustice” and “atrocity,” both said it was an affront for District residents to go unrepresented in the body that will decide whether city residents will be put in harm’s way.

“It is an outrage that we have a representative who cannot weigh in on a discussion as important as this is to the United States of America,” said Gray, who said 37,000 District residents currently serve or have served in the military.

Norton said the Syria vote will be the fourth war authorization she has witnessed since being elected to her nonvoting House seat in 1990, following invasions of Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“The taxes of the District of Columbia helped pay for those wars,” she said. “District of Columbia residents have fought in those wars. And I have gone to Arlington Cemetery to comfort the families of District of Columbia residents who died in those wars.”

The District’s lack of a vote, she said, is “in a unique category among offenses to our democratic values.”

The speakers included two District veterans. Herbert Tillery, a retired Army colonel and former deputy D.C. mayor, said he was “saddened, appalled and borderline outraged” about being “shut out” from the congressional vote.

James Rimensnyder, an Army officer who now serves on the D.C. police force, said city residents “need to use situations like what’s going on in Syria to really let people know that it is hypocritical.”

“If we want to be that shining beacon to other democracies, if we want to tell people like [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], people in North Korea, any other places with autocracies, then we need to fix what’s going on here at home first,” he said.

Norton said that, if she had a vote, she could not currently support Obama’s request for authorization.

While she said she did not doubt that the Assad regime was responsible for chemical weapons attacks against civilians, Norton said administration officials had not given “satisfactory” answers to questions about the consequences of a strike.

“There is massive evidence, but there are huge unknowns,” she said.

Norton said she hopes Obama “can find a way to use the threat to engage in diplomacy” and urged him to respect the will of Congress.

If Obama chooses to undertake military action without congressional approval, Norton said, members “will have just a taste of what the residents of this city have experienced” from Congress.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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