Senators Block D.C. Vote Bill, Delivering Possibly Fatal Blow

From left, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, supporters of the bill. "We have not given up," Norton said, though further action this year on the bill is unlikely. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Republican lawmakers yesterday blocked the Senate from taking up the D.C. vote bill, a potentially fatal setback for the District's most promising effort in years to get a full member of Congress.

The vote was on a motion to simply consider the bill. Fifty-seven senators voted in favor, three short of the 60 needed to proceed. Without enough support to vault the Senate's procedural hurdles, the bill is expected to stall this year and possibly next year.

The Senate action was a crushing disappointment to many activists in the decades-long campaign for voting representation in Congress. The bill, which passed the House in April, has gone further than any other D.C. vote measure in almost 30 years.

Glum-faced supporters vowed to fight on.

"We have not given up," said Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District's nonvoting congressional delegate. "The session is not over. We have come too far to stop now."

The bill was a compromise aimed at appealing to both parties. It would expand the House by two seats: one for the overwhelmingly Democratic District and the other for the next state in line to add a seat. That state currently is Utah, which is heavily Republican. Utah would also gain an electoral vote.

The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and the White House have strongly criticized the legislation. They maintain that, because the District is not a state, the bill violates the constitutional mandate that House members be chosen by the "People of the several States."

"I opposed this bill because it is clearly and unambiguously unconstitutional," McConnell said in a statement. "If the residents of the District are to get a member for themselves, they have a remedy: amend the Constitution."

In addition to voicing legal concerns, opponents were wary of the bill's potential political repercussions. Some Republicans feared that the measure could eventually lead to the addition of two full D.C. senators, who probably would be Democrats.

Yesterday's vote marked the first time the full Senate had considered the D.C. voting rights issue since 1978, when it passed a constitutional amendment that would have given the city voting representatives in the House and Senate. The amendment died seven years later after getting approval from only 16 of the 38 states required for ratification.

Proponents have portrayed the bill as a civil rights measure, saying that depriving a majority African American city of a vote echoes discriminatory practices outlawed decades ago. They also have said it is hypocritical for the United States to fight for voting rights in Iraq while denying them in its own capital.

"It's time to end the injustice, the national embarrassment that citizens of this great capital city don't have voting representation in Congress," Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a brief floor session before the vote. Opponents did not make speeches.

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