Three District veterans of the war in Iraq yesterday appealed to the U.S. House of Representatives to extend a provisional floor vote to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton when Congress reconvenes today, saying they risked their lives to bring democracy to Baghdad only to return home without a vote in America's capital.
"The maximum is what my buddies and I are pledged to give," said Army Reserve Spec. Isaac Lewis, 26. "We believe that voting representation is not too much to ask in return."
Three Iraq war veterans -- Army Reserve Specs. Isaac Lewis, left, Emory Kosh and Marcus Gray -- appear with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton at an event honoring D.C. residents who served in Iraq. Lewis pointed out that Iraqi citizens soon will have more voting rights than D.C. citizens.
(Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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Lewis was joined by Specs. Marcus Gray, 22, and Emory Kosh, 22, of the 299th Engineer Company. The 170-member Army Reserve unit cleared invasion lanes of mines for the 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Combat Brigade near the Iraqi border in March 2003 and returned to the United States that August.
Norton (D-D.C.), Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) joined the soldiers yesterday, issuing a city proclamation honoring Iraq veterans in the District and calling on House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to intervene by seeking a rule change.
Norton and delegates from four U.S. territories were allowed by Democrats to vote on the House floor in most cases from 1993 to 1995. However, if their votes ever provided the margin of victory on a measure, any member of the House could request a second, binding vote without them.
Republicans did away with the limited vote upon taking control of Congress in 1995. House GOP leaders will meet today to decide whether to continue that policy for the next two years. For now, Norton can sponsor bills and speak on legislation but votes only in regular committees. She had no vote in Congress's decision to go to war.
"Brave, patriotic veterans of the war in Iraq, they went there to fight for freedom for the Iraqi people," Pelosi said. "They came home to fight for the same right to vote for the people of the District of Columbia. They challenge the conscience of the Congress."
Lewis, a Dunbar High School graduate, noted that Iraqi citizens are preparing for Jan. 30 elections for a national legislature and requested that Congress restore a limited vote for Norton.
"Although this would not be the full vote other Americans have and that Iraqis soon will have, I understand that this vote would be the maximum the House of Representatives can give at this time," he said.
Kosh, a Norton aide and Eastern High School graduate whose second son was born 12 hours after he was deployed to Iraq, said "the reaction was complete and utter shock" whenever his Army comrades learned that U.S. citizens in the District could not vote for a member of Congress.
"A lot of them wrote letters home to their families. This is something they don't teach you in school," said Kosh, who called a limited House vote a "good beginning" but less than the rights Iraqi citizens expect to enjoy at month's end.
Williams compared the soldiers' concern about voting rights to the struggle for civil rights waged by returning African American veterans of World War II, including his father, Lewis I. Williams III. A U.S. Army infantry captain, the senior Williams volunteered and was awarded two Bronze Stars with the segregated "Buffalo Soldiers" 92nd Infantry Division for combat in Italy in 1944 and 1945.
Like his father, the mayor told the veterans, "you understand what this country can become. . . . We have unfinished business, and this is a lesser nation because of it."
At least 198 D.C. guard members and reservists have served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Three have been killed: D.C. Army National Guard Spec. Darryl T. Dent, Marine Corps Reserve Lance Cpl. Gregory E. MacDonald and Marine Corps Maj. Kevin M. Shea, the Pentagon has reported.
Norton said the veterans pushing for voting rights requested a meeting with Hastert, whose office said he was committed all day to GOP caucus meetings. Late yesterday, Norton's spokeswoman said that Hastert aides were trying to arrange a staff-level meeting.
Hastert's office did not respond to requests for comment.
Staff researcher Karl Evanzz contributed to this report.