By Mary Beth Sheridan and Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 1, 2006
D.C. Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty went to Capitol Hill yesterday and Utah prepared to redraw its congressional districts as members of both parties said a plan to add House seats for the District and Utah had good prospects for approval next year.
Fenty and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton met with House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to push for passage next week of the voting rights bill, before the current session of Congress adjourns. That appears unlikely, according to congressional leaders. A more probable scenario, they said, has the bill reemerging early next year in a new, Democrat-controlled Congress.
"Early on, we should be able to get this through," said Norton (D), the District's nonvoting member of the House and a co-sponsor of the legislation. She said she remained hopeful for a vote next week, but "the enemy is time."
The bill would create two House seats -- one for the mostly Democratic District and the other for Utah, a Republican stronghold. Utah legislators are scheduled to vote Monday on boundaries for their proposed extra district. Congressional leaders in Washington had insisted on such a map before moving forward.
Fenty (D) and others hoped that the Utah action would propel Congress to act next week. But Republicans, who control the House, said they doubted the bill would get a vote in the session beginning Tuesday. A Democratic leadership aide, speaking on background, agreed.
In the Senate, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the majority whip, said this week that he had heard no discussion about bringing the voting-rights bill to the floor in that chamber. And Amy Call, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), said yesterday that a vote was "probably unlikely at this point."
Fenty said yesterday that he is hopeful, too.
"We're taking every step possible to get it passed next week. A lot of people have worked hard. It's very possible it could pass," he said in an interview after the 15-minute meeting with Pelosi.
He acknowledged that there is only a short window to act in the lame-duck session. He said he is planning to contact McConnell as well as such prominent politicians as Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in the next few days to generate momentum. He said he has spoken to some key members of both parties, including Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).
The bill is considered the most promising effort in years to gain a full House seat for the District. In 1978, Congress approved a constitutional amendment to give the District two votes in the Senate and one vote in the House. The effort collapsed when it failed to win ratification by two-thirds of state legislatures.
President Bush has said he will review the bill, but he has not taken a stand on it.
In their visit, Fenty and Norton also spoke to Pelosi about gaining more budget and legislative autonomy for the District. Pelosi, who was on the D.C. appropriations subcommittee at one time, agreed that Congress should interfere less in the city's affairs, according to a news release from Norton.
The voting-rights bill was overwhelmingly approved last spring by the House Committee on Government Reform, chaired by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who crafted the legislation.
But it became bogged down by details. Legislators have tried to draw the extra House district in Utah in a way that is constitutional and acceptable to Democrats, who fear losing the seat they hold in the state. Now that issue is nearing a resolution. A key legislative committee in Utah signed off on the boundaries Wednesday, and the full state legislature is scheduled to meet in a special session Monday to approve the new map.
Under the current law, the District's representative in Congress can sponsor legislation, belong to committees and take part in debates but is not entitled to a vote on the House floor. The bill would give the representative full voting rights. It would permanently expand the House from 435 to 437 members.
An aide to Davis agreed with Norton that the bill would probably pass early next year if Congress does not approve it next week. Pelosi predicted that initial action could be taken by the time of the State of the Union address in late January, Fenty said.
A spokesman for the California congresswoman, Drew Hammill, said Pelosi "indicated she is supportive of that legislation," which she co-sponsored.
Dave Marin, the Davis aide, said it would be the first piece of legislation that Davis would introduce in the new Congress.
"Whether it's next week or in February 2007, this will get done," he said.
Norton said the bill should pass easily because it has been debated in House committees and won support from members of both parties. However, she said, the Democratic leadership has issued a list of priorities it expects to tackle at the start of the new Congress, and it did not include the D.C. vote issue.
"They didn't expect the D.C. bill would still be pending," Norton said.