House Passes Bill to Give D.C. a Full Congressional Seat

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2007; 4:30 PM

The House today passed legislation to give the District a full seat in Congress, marking the biggest victory in nearly three decades in the city's quest for voting rights.

Members voted 241 to 177 for the measure, a political compromise that would add two seats to the House: one for the heavily Democratic District, and the other for the state next in line for an additional representative. Currently, that state is Republican-leaning Utah. Later, in a companion bill, they voted 216 to 203 to pay for creation of the two seats.

"This legislation corrects a serious flaw in our democracy," declared House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Democrats managed to steer through the bill a month after having to suddenly pull it from the floor. Last month, House Republicans tried to attach language overturning the District's strict anti-gun laws, forcing Democrats into retreat. This time, the Democrats fashioned the bill in a way to prevent the Republicans from offering similar amendments.

The legislation still faces major hurdles. Democrats do not appear to have enough votes to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. And, if it clears that chamber, the White House has threatened a veto.

The House legislation is sponsored by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and the city's non-voting congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has also championed the measure, leading thousands of demonstrators to Congress this week to demand representation for the city.

"This is a great and historic day for the residents of the District of Columbia," Fenty said in a statement after the vote. "I look forward to the continued success of the D.C. Voting Rights Act and urge the Senate to take up this important legislation immediately."

Supporters called the bill's passage by the House their biggest victory since 1978, when Congress approved a constitutional amendment to give the city two senators as well as a House representative. That amendment later died after failing to win passage by enough states. The current legislation does not provide the District with senators.

The House Republican leadership strongly opposed the bill, saying it violates the constitutional requirement that representatives come from states. "This legislation was constitutionally suspect last month, and it is constitutionally suspect today," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

Many Republicans said they were not against voting rights for D.C. residents but believed that the best way to provide them was through a constitutional amendment or by ceding much of the District back to Maryland.

"There are ways these individuals can receive representation without trampling on the Constitution," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

Some Republicans have also charged that Democrats will use it as a mechanism to eventually gain two D.C. Senate seats.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company