Plan to Give D.C. a Vote In Congress Advances
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is teaming up with U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) to introduce a bill that would for the first time give the District a full vote in Congress, a sign of bipartisan cooperation that advocates of D.C. voting rights hailed as a breakthrough.
The legislation, set to be unveiled at a news conference today, would expand the House from 435 to 437 seats, giving a vote to the District as well as a fourth seat to Utah, the state next in line to enlarge its congressional delegation based on the 2000 Census.
Davis first introduced a version of the bill two years ago, but he struggled to persuade Norton and House Democrats to support it. Through a spokeswoman, Norton declined yesterday to discuss her change of heart, promising to explain all at today's news conference.
"We have an agreement in principle with our Democrats, and that's a significant development," said Davis spokesman David Marin. "It's no secret that legislation to give the District a vote wasn't going to go too far without Eleanor Holmes Norton on board."
Advocates of D.C. voting rights also said Norton's sponsorship of the bill was an important development.
"We're excited about this. This represents a lot of movement," said Kevin Kiger, communications director for D.C. Vote, a nonprofit organization formed to pursue District representation in Congress. "If Norton is supporting this, we think it will bring Democrats on board. Davis and the Republicans will bring the Republicans on board. So we feel that this has a great chance of passing."
Kiger said that, if all goes smoothly, D.C. residents could have a voting representative on the House floor as early as this fall.
Davis aides were somewhat less optimistic, acknowledging that the bill does not yet have the backing of House leaders. "You build momentum step by step," Marin said.
But Republican leaders have not signaled any intent to block the bill. A spokesman for House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said yesterday that Boehner is "letting the committees work their will on this issue."
Davis has also raised the matter with President Bush, who opposes giving the District a voice in the Senate. But when told in December that the Davis bill would affect only the House, Bush asked for more information, Davis said at the time.
Davis and Norton declined yesterday to reveal details of the legislation. Sources familiar with the negotiations said the bill is likely to look very much like Davis's original proposal, with two significant changes.
The first would address Democratic concerns by making Utah's new seat a statewide position, rather than creating another congressional district. Utah now has three House members, including one Democrat, Jim Matheson. House Democrats had worried that Utah Republicans, who control the statehouse, would use the extra seat to reconfigure the congressional districts and push Matheson out of his job. By making the fourth seat an at-large position, the three existing districts would remain intact.