House Vote on D.C. Seat Thwarted

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 23, 2007

Republicans yesterday derailed a vote on a bill giving the District its first full seat in the House of Representatives by trying to tie the legislation to a drastic weakening of the city's gun-control laws.

The surprise development came as the Democratic-dominated House appeared on the verge of passing the measure. Many D.C. vote activists had gathered at the Capitol for what they hoped would be a historic day -- the first time in nearly 30 years the chamber would vote to give the District a full-fledged House representative.

But as more than three hours of debate drew to a close, Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Tex.) proposed sending the bill back to committee with additional language gutting the city's gun restrictions.

Democrats retreated, fearing that conservative, pro-gun members of their party could be tempted to side with Republicans. The majority party postponed further action to give voting-rights backers time to regroup.

The bill's supporters said they hope to return the D.C. vote legislation to the House floor in a matter of days -- but with rules that would prohibit such maneuvers.

"It's a motion to shoot the bill dead," Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District's non-voting congressional delegate, declared angrily on the House floor after Smith introduced his measure. "These people are trying to kill voting rights for the people of the District of Columbia."

The Republican maneuver reflected the party leadership's staunch opposition to the bill. During yesterday's floor debate, Republicans called the bill unconstitutional and accused Democrats of creating a precedent that could lead to two full senators from the District.

The voting-rights measure, sponsored by Norton and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), is a compromise that would add two seats to the House, one for the heavily Democratic city and another for the state next in line to expand its delegation -- currently Republican-leaning Utah.

The opposition went into high gear during the past week. The White House said that if the bill reached President Bush, advisers would recommend a veto. Republican leaders also worked the House in recent days.

Norton and Davis said that Smith's motion caused turmoil because it tested Democrats from conservative areas where gun rights are popular. If they voted against the measure, "it makes a great TV ad" that critics could run in their home districts, Davis said.

If such Democrats helped pass the motion, though, it would send the voting rights bill back to committee, which could tie it up or even kill it.

Republicans protested the decision to delay any action.

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