Senate To Weigh D.C. Vote Measure

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor Adrian Fenty and a host of local activist talk about the implications of the U.S. Senate voting in favor of giving the District a full vote in the House of Representatives. Video by Hamil Harris/The Washington Post
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 25, 2009

For the first time since the 1970s, the U.S. Senate decided yesterday to take up a D.C. voting rights bill, fueling hopes that the District is finally nearing its longtime goal of having a full member of the House of Representatives.

The 62 to 34 vote was on whether to consider the bill. But the strong "yes" tally indicated that there could be enough support to pass the measure in the Senate, which has a 60-vote threshold to prevent a filibuster. Two years ago, the bill died after failing to clear that hurdle.

The vote came as the legislation moves ahead in the House, where it enjoys broad support. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she expects the legislation to pass the Judiciary Committee today. And, for the first time in years, the bill also has a champion in the White House.

The legislation still faces obstacles -- such as possible attempts to kill it through amendments and a probable challenge that could go to the Supreme Court. But a beaming Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) called the initial Senate vote "a breakthrough in the full franchise of the people of the District of Columbia."

The Senate bill would permanently add two seats to the 435-member House. One would go to the heavily Democratic District, and the other would be assigned to Republican-leaning Utah through 2012, when congressional seats are reapportioned. Utah barely missed getting an additional representative after the last U.S. Census.

The legislation could come to a final vote as soon as tomorrow, said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.).

In a brief debate yesterday, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) assailed the bill as constitutionally flawed.

"The Constitution of the United States could not be clearer . . . that representation [in the House] is limited to states," he said. He was referring to the Constitution's language that House representatives be chosen by the "people of the several states."

Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), the bill's co-sponsors, said the District is often treated legally as a state in matters such as taxation and interstate commerce. The senators said the Constitution gives Congress sweeping authority over matters related to the District, which they said could include adding a House seat.

Legal scholars have been divided about the bill's constitutionality.

At an afternoon news conference, Reid said he was sure the bill would survive court scrutiny if it is approved and signed into law by President Obama.

As for possible amendments that could tie up or torpedo the bill, the majority leader said, "We feel confident that any mischievous amendment will be tabled."

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