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.
Collins, the top Republican on the committee, said she expects a filibuster, which "will be difficult to overcome."
But, she added, the bill's chances of passing the Senate improved because of two amendments she introduced yesterday. One would provide for expedited judicial review of the bill if it is challenged after becoming law. The other clarifies that the D.C. vote bill does not provide senators for the District.
Both amendments passed overwhelmingly.
Warner said he had not decided whether he would join a filibuster.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), the original architect of the D.C.-Utah bill, said he had asked Warner not to support a filibuster but to let the bill go to a vote by simple majority on the Senate floor. Davis said he thought enough Republicans could be rounded up to reach the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster, but "it's going to be close."
In addition to Warner, four Republican committee members who were not present for the actual vote expressed their opposition to the bill yesterday by casting symbolic "proxy" votes. They were Tom Coburn (Okla.), Pete V. Domenici (N.M.), Ted Stevens (Alaska) and John E. Sununu (N.H.).
Democrats joining in the 9 to 1 vote included Daniel K. Akaka (Hawaii), Mary L. Landrieu (La.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Barack Obama (Ill.) and Jon Tester (Mont.).Three Democrats who were not in attendance supported the bill by proxy.
Despite the hurdles ahead, supporters said the vote showed that the bill is gaining momentum.
"It looks like this bill is about to be born," exulted Norton, adding that Lieberman had gotten the legislation through committee "with uncommon speed for the Senate."