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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)

Voting rights supporters said they planned to regroup and said they hoped that Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) would bring up the bill again. But they acknowledged that is highly unlikely this year and might not happen in the 2007-08 session.

"We would really have to convince him we had 60 votes," Lieberman said. "He's not going to go through this exercise again to lose it."

Proponents blamed their loss on aggressive last-minute lobbying by the Republican leadership. They said three Republican senators who had indicated support for moving the bill forward changed their minds: Gordon Smith (Ore.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Thad Cochran (Miss.).

But two Democrats also did not vote for the bill to proceed. They were Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.), who was absent and whose support had been considered doubtful, and Max Baucus (Mont.).

Baucus said in a written statement that he opposed the bill because Montana has only one House vote. "If we were to expand the House, Montana's voice would become less influential," he said.

His spokesman denied reports that Baucus had promised to side with his party if he turned out to be the deciding vote.

Baucus, standing in the well of the Senate, was the last to vote, raising his arm and jabbing a finger downward.

"Fifty-seven?" exclaimed Norton as she realized the motion would fall short. She and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) were on the Senate floor for the vote. So was the man who came up with the idea of pairing a D.C. seat with one for Utah: Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.).

"It's crummy," Davis said. But, he added, "a lot of time, legislation takes years to get through."

Eight Republicans voted to allow the bill to proceed. In addition to Utah's two senators, they included three previously uncommitted lawmakers: Arlen Specter (Pa.), Richard G. Lugar (Ind.) and Olympia J. Snowe (Maine). The measure already had support from three moderate Republicans: Susan Collins (Maine), George V. Voinovich (Ohio) and Norm Coleman (Minn.).

In the Senate, 60 votes are needed if there is not unanimous consent to proceed with a bill.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a co-sponsor of the bill, called on its critics to at least allow a full floor debate on its constitutionality. He and other supporters say the Constitution gives Congress sufficient power over the District to create a House seat for it.

"When has the U.S. Senate been afraid to debate a constitutional issue as important as this one?" he said in a brief floor speech.

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) was the only member of the local congressional delegation to vote against moving forward with the bill. Warner said he was drafting a constitutional amendment to provide D.C. residents with representation in Congress.

"My view is that only a constitutional amendment . . . will resolve this issue and thereby avoid interminable litigation flowing from an act of Congress," he said before the vote.

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