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D.C. Vote's Stars Are Aligning, Davis Says

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) are optimistic that the voting-rights bill they are co-sponsoring will pass. But a spokesman for House leaders says it has
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) are optimistic that the voting-rights bill they are co-sponsoring will pass. But a spokesman for House leaders says it has "not a shot whatsoever." (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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By Lori Montgomery and Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 12, 2006

A bipartisan proposal to give the nation's capital a vote in Congress has "more than enough votes" to win approval in one House committee, the panel's chairman said yesterday, the first step in a process that could add two seats to the House and permanently expand its membership for the first time in nearly 100 years.

U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said he will push the measure through his Committee on Government Reform as soon as next week. It would then move to the Judiciary Committee, where its fate is less certain. Davis said judiciary chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) has pledged to stage a vote on the bill. But a committee spokesman said yesterday that Sensenbrenner may only conduct a hearing.

If both panels approve the bill, which would add seats for the District and Utah, Davis said, House leaders have signaled that they will let it proceed to the floor.

But a House leadership aide last night said the bill has "not a shot whatsoever." Davis is "doing his own thing here," said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because leadership members had not cleared his statement.

In the Senate, a spokesman for Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said last night that the proposal has received little attention. The White House declined to comment, but Davis said the bill "is not something the president would veto."

"The time is right for this legislation. The stars are aligning," Davis said at a Capitol Hill news conference, where he appeared with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) "Congress ultimately will grant voting rights to the District of Columbia because -- and it's really no more complex than this -- it's the right thing to do."

D.C. residents greeted word of progress with enthusiasm, and a little exasperation.

"I'm 71 years old. It's about time!" said Troy Johnson, a native Washingtonian who was waiting yesterday for a Metrobus on U Street NW. Designated a federal enclave in 1801, the District has never had an unfettered vote in Congress, although its population of 550,000, according to the latest U.S. Census estimate, outnumbers the residents of Wyoming.

Under the plan presented yesterday, the House would expand from 435 to 437 members, altering a fact memorized by schoolchildren since 1911. Norton, who is a nonvoting delegate, or her successor would claim one of the new seats. The other would go to Utah, which gave President Bush his highest margin of victory in 2004 and is next in line to expand its congressional delegation based on the 2000 Census.

Davis first introduced a version of the measure two years ago. But Norton and House Democrats were wary of that proposal. They came to support it, with Norton agreeing to co-sponsor a newly drafted bill, after several months of negotiations.

Norton said Sensenbrenner's pledge to take up the measure was critical to her decision to put aside for now her bill, which proposes a full congressional delegation for the District. "I thought we had to have the Judiciary Committee" as a show of serious Republican commitment, she said.

House Democrats were assuaged by Davis's decision to make the new Utah representative run statewide. Because of the compromise, Utah Republicans would not get an early opportunity to redraw congressional lines and potentially damage the reelection prospects of the state's lone House Democrat, Jim Matheson.


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