Bipartisan backers of legislation to grant the District a vote in Congress yesterday urged House leaders not to allow political divisions to thwart efforts to give representation to 550,000 U.S. citizens in the nation's capital.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) introduced the D.C. Fairness in Representation Act at a news conference and said he hoped to have lawmakers vote on it by December.
Former GOP vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, left, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), former representative Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) talk at a news conference backing a representative for the District.
(Andrea Bruce Woodall -- The Washington Post)
"It's fair. It's constitutional. . . . Most of all, it is just the right thing to do," said Davis, who chairs a House committee that oversees the District. "Justice should not have to wait, especially not for politics."
Davis was flanked by District Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), 1996 vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp (R) and former House member Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.), all supporters of the bill.
The Capitol Hill event marked the carefully choreographed kickoff of a renewed push to pass Davis's bill, which would temporarily expand the House from 435 seats to 437 to give the District a full voting representative and add a fourth member for Utah, next in line for an additional seat. Under the bill, which died in subcommittee last year, the House would revert to 435 seats for the 2012 election after reapportionment following the 2010 Census.
By pairing the addition of a member from the overwhelmingly Democratic District with one from heavily Republican Utah, Davis has sought to unlock a partisan stalemate in the House. GOP leaders have seen no long-term political gain from adding a representative from the District.
Davis said he has 11 co-sponsors, up from five last year, comprising 10 Republicans and one Democrat, Dennis Moore (Kan.). Davis noted at least eight times in 45 minutes the need to sign up a "critical mass" of perhaps 25 Republicans.
"The hard part is getting members, particularly on our side, to realize that this is acceptable, this isn't going to hurt you back in your district. They're not giving anybody a partisan advantage, and it's the right thing," Davis said. "You're spending hundreds of billions of dollars to bring democracy to Baghdad and the capital of Afghanistan. What are we doing here in the nation's capital, which is the capital of the free world?"
Kemp said he and former Oklahoma GOP representative J.C. Watts raised the issue yesterday morning with Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman "on behalf of all Americans."
Mehlman spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said they "discussed their mutual commitment to growing the Republican Party and a number of other items" but declined to release details.
While Davis appealed to GOP moderates, he also cited opinions from former Republican administration lawyers that Congress could grant the District a vote without a constitutional amendment.
Meanwhile, Williams, Cropp, eight other council members and elected D.C. statehood lobbyist Ray Browne called on House Democrats nationwide to support the measure. They said that more Americans live in the District than in Wyoming and that they pay U.S. income taxes and have fought in every major war.
"We are very, very loyal Democrats in this city," Williams said, counting voters, donors and campaign activists. "You've got to be with us on this. We call on your support from the top of the leadership on down."
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in January that she opposed expanding the House, that the Republican majority could pass Davis's bill on its own and that Republicans enraged Democrats by redistricting states, notably Texas, between censuses to increase their ranks.
Yesterday, Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said: "We are not blocking a bill from going to the floor. The Democratic leadership supports full voting rights for the city."
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District's nonvoting delegate in the House, has introduced a bill to give the city two senators and a House member and has not endorsed Davis's bill. She was absent from the news conference yesterday. She released a statement saying she "will continue to work with Tom [and others] to seize the first opportunity to achieve the strongest bill we can."