Bill to Give D.C. Full House Vote Advances

Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.), left, Rep. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) celebrate the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's endorsement of the bill.
Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.), left, Rep. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) celebrate the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's endorsement of the bill. (By Michel Du Cille -- The Washington Post)
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A congressional committee approved a bill yesterday granting the District a full vote in the House of Representatives, giving the measure its first victory in what will probably be weeks of fierce wrangling as it moves through Congress.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform voted 24 to 5 for the bill, an endorsement its supporters expected. But in a likely sign of things to come, there was feisty sparring, with opponents calling the measure unconstitutional and marshaling amendments to derail it.

One amendment, which was successfully attached to the bill, seeks to prevent the District from eventually getting voting representatives in the Senate.

But Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she expected that measure to be stripped because of its doubtful legality. She said she did not fight the amendment because she did not want to waste time on an unnecessary debate.

"We'll never give up on full citizenship rights," said Norton, co-sponsor of the D.C. vote bill. "That one is not going to make it."

The legislation now goes to the Judiciary Committee. Although it faces a fight there, members are expected to approve it tomorrow and send it to the House floor, where the Democratic leadership has pledged to pass it.

The voting rights bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), would expand the House from 435 to 437 seats. In a political compromise, one seat would go to the overwhelmingly Democratic District, which has sought full representation for decades. The other would go to the next state in line to expand its delegation based on census figures: Utah, which leans Republican.

Currently, Norton has a vote in committee but not in the full House.

Davis noted yesterday that despite a flurry of amendments offered by members opposed to the bill, it passed handily, with six Republicans joining 18 Democrats to approve it. The five opposing votes were cast by Republicans.

"It's a pretty strong vote. It's a majority of both parties," Davis said in an interview. "The key is: Is it going to get through the House? At this point, it looks like almost a certainty."

Even if it clears the House, though, the bill faces big hurdles. It would have to be approved by the Senate, where so far it has elicited little support from Republicans. It also would have to be signed by President Bush, whose staff has expressed doubts about its constitutionality. If it succeeds in becoming law, it will almost certainly face a court challenge.

In yesterday's committee session, several of the bill's opponents focused on the constitutionality of the measure. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) said he had an added worry: that the bill would merely be the start of an offensive by the District to secure Senate representation.


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