D.C. Voting Measure Clears The Senate

U.S. Senators joined D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Adrian Fenty Thursday to talk about the Senate's 61 to 37 vote to give the District a voting representative in the House of Representatives.Video by Hamil Harris/The Washington Post
By Mary Beth Sheridan and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 27, 2009

The Senate passed a bill yesterday that would give the District a voting seat in the House of Representatives, but lawmakers attached language strongly opposed by city leaders that strips most local gun-control laws.

The gun amendment complicates the D.C. vote bill's passage into law, because the legislation will have to be reconciled with a companion bill in the House with no gun provisions that is expected to be approved next week. Some D.C. officials said it was ironic that the Senate bill granted the city full representation in the House while also overruling the District's decisions on a key local issue.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the city's nonvoting House delegate, said she was overjoyed at the passage of the voting-rights bill. She has fought an uphill battle for years for District residents to have a greater voice in Congress.

"I stand in the shoes of residents of the city who have lived without the vote and died without the vote," she said after emerging from the Senate floor, where she anxiously watched the vote. The bill squeaked past the 60-vote threshold it needed to pass, under a bipartisan agreement that sped up the process. Six Republicans voted "aye" to produce a 61 to 37 result.

Norton predicted that the bill would clear the House easily, setting up a closed-door meeting between negotiators from both chambers who will have to decide what to do about the gun language.

The Maryland and Virginia senators voted for the measure.

Norton and D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) were tight-lipped about potential problems raised by the gun issue, apparently seeking to avoid antagonizing senators over an amendment that won wide support.

Proponents of the bill differed on how much of an obstacle the gun amendment would be.

"I personally believe that's not going to be an overwhelming issue," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a co-sponsor of the bill. But Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, an advocacy group, said, "It's going to cause problems."

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), another co-sponsor who is expected to be involved in the negotiations over the bill's outcome, said it was too early to know how the issue would play out.

The D.C. vote bill is a political compromise that would permanently expand the House by two seats. One would be for the overwhelmingly Democratic District, while the other would go in the short term to Republican-leaning Utah. After 2011, that seat would go to whichever state is next in line to pick up a representative based on the Census.

The gun amendment cast a cloud of uncertainty over what voting-rights supporters had hoped would be a major triumph. A similar bill had died two years ago after falling three votes short in the Senate.

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