D.C. Vote Bill Wins Big in Senate Panel

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, left, and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman shake hands after a committee vote to give the District more sway in the House.
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, left, and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman shake hands after a committee vote to give the District more sway in the House. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 14, 2007

The D.C. voting-rights bill was approved yesterday by a Senate committee, clearing the way for a vote by the entire chamber on whether to give the District its first full representative in Congress.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed the bill 9 to 1, sparking jubilant applause from a packed hearing room. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and the District's non-voting House delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), joined a standing ovation by dozens of spectators.

The House passed the bill in April. Now it faces the steep procedural hurdles of the full Senate, where lawmakers can block a vote by threatening marathon debates -- a tactic known as a filibuster. A supermajority of 60 senators is needed to break a filibuster.

"I'm thrilled. It's very significant," Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), the committee's chairman, said of yesterday's action. So far, he said, more than 50 senators plan to vote for the bill, a strong foundation but still not enough to guarantee success.

"It ain't over. We've got a fight on the floor to get 60 votes," said Lieberman, a co-sponsor of the bill. He said he hoped the measure could reach the full Senate in July.

Both the White House and the Republican minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) oppose the bill. But, in what advocates considered an encouraging sign, three Republicans on the homeland security committee backed the measure yesterday: Norm Coleman (Minn.), Susan M. Collins (Maine) and George V. Voinovich (Ohio).

The dissenting vote was cast by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), who the bill's supporters had hoped would be an ally.

The legislation is a compromise that adds two House seats. One would go to the heavily Democratic District, and the other to the next state in line to pick up an extra seat. During the current 10-year redistricting cycle, that state is Utah, a Republican bastion.

Asked why he opposed the bill, Warner pulled a booklet-size copy of the Constitution from his pocket. "It's Article 1, Section 2," he said, jabbing at the passage that reserves House representation to people from the "several States."

The District is not a state, opponents of the legislation note.

Supporters of the bill say that the Constitution gives Congress sweeping powers over the District, including the right to create a full House seat. Legal experts have split on the issue.

Most Democrats support the bill and so do Utah's Republican senators, Orrin G. Hatch and Robert F. Bennett. Now those on both sides of the issue will gear up to win the votes of other senators.

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