Hypocrisy on the Hill

Saturday, March 24, 2007

WASHINGTONIANS probably could live with Republicans' sabotaging their latest chance at congressional representation; that's nothing new. More galling are those Republicans too gutless to admit their true position.

Take, for example, the condescending statement of House Republican Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who argued that there are more constitutional ways to give representation to the District than the legislation that Republicans managed to sideline on Thursday. D.C. residents, Mr. Boehner piously noted, "deserve a more serious debate on how to provide them with a greater voice in the federal government." Oh, really? Where was he the past 12 years, when Republicans controlled the House and could easily have encouraged such a debate? In fact, he was doing everything in his power to prevent it, even with a member of his own party, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), championing the cause. Mr. Boehner knows as well as anyone that there is no political will for either a constitutional amendment or retrocession to Maryland.

The ferocity of GOP opposition to democracy for the District became clear last week when the White House dropped its pretend indifference in favor of an all-out assault, complete with the threat of a presidential veto. What's unclear are the reasons for this antipathy. They must not be partisan, since the bill championed by Mr. Davis and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District's non-voting representative, neutralizes politics by pairing a seat for the mostly Democratic District with a district for predominantly Republican Utah. It's also evident from this week's debate that constitutional questions are not an issue for Congress to decide, but for the courts. Each side was able to cite expert opinion to buttress its arguments. Indeed, it was quite a spectacle watching the contortions of Republicans as they sought to dismiss the views of Kenneth W. Starr, Patricia M. Wald and Viet D. Dinh, all of whom see the bill as constitutional.

Perhaps opponents are worried that correcting a 207-year injustice would open the door to Senate representation. Or perhaps opposition is simply a manifestation of the disdain that Congress has historically shown for the people of Washington, D.C. What if, as Mr. Davis challenged his colleagues, the capital had stayed in New York City or Philadelphia? Would those cities have been disenfranchised? "Of course not," Mr. Davis said, "and neither should the people of Washington, D.C.''

Congressional Republicans are delighting in having outmaneuvered the Democratic majority. Just when the House seemed set to approve the legislation, a small GOP band thwarted the vote by trying to add a measure gutting the city's ability to limit guns. That would have sent the bill back to committee, dooming it.

Republicans instead should be embarrassed by their crass use of the gun issue. How can they justify holding democracy hostage at a time when young men and women from the District are fighting overseas for that very right? Democrats should regroup to bring the bill back to the floor. If Republicans can't bring themselves to endorse basic civil rights for some 550,000 Americans, they should at the least get out of the way and let others cast their votes to do so.

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