Hoyer, Norton and D.C. Council Push to Save Voting Rights Bill

Members of the DC. Council stood on the steps of city hall to condemn the gun amendment that was added to the D.C. Voting Rights bill.Video by Hamil Harris/The Washington Post
By Mary Beth Sheridan and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Supporters of a D.C. vote bill scrambled yesterday to find a way to get it approved by the House of Representatives without a controversial amendment that would repeal many of the city's gun laws.

The bill had been expected to get a final vote as early as today. But that vote was put on hold after House leaders learned that the influential National Rifle Association was urging its members to use a procedural maneuver to press for gun amendments, according to D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).

"The [House] leadership is in a dilemma," she said.

They weren't the only ones in a quandary. D.C. Council members questioned yesterday whether they should continue to support the voting rights bill if it meant the city would have to loosen its firearms regulations.

"To make us swallow this without objection . . . we're just lying down, just like always," said council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3). "What have we won?"

The gun amendment was the latest complication for a bill that would give the District a long-sought voting seat in Congress. The legislation was designed to gain bipartisan support by expanding the House by two seats: one for the heavily Democratic District and one that would go temporarily to Republican-leaning Utah.

The measure passed the Senate last week, but with an amendment opposed by the D.C. government that would weaken the city's gun laws.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), a strong supporter of D.C. voting rights, said yesterday that he still hopes to schedule a vote on the bill this week. But he acknowledged that the legislation could be torpedoed by a gun amendment.

"The irony is . . . if [the amendment] passes, we may not be able to pass the bill" because of opposition from lawmakers who support gun control, he said. However, if a gun amendment is not included, other legislators might balk at letting the legislation be considered at all, he said.

The immediate issue in the House is the parliamentary rule for the bill. Such a rule -- which sets out the terms for debate and possible amendments -- usually must be agreed upon before taking up the bill itself.

Supporters of the vote bill had assumed Democrats would use their majority power to pass a rule that would bar gun amendments.

But in an unusual move, the NRA told lawmakers that it might score their votes on the rule for the D.C. bill, Norton said. That means representatives could be recorded as casting an anti-gun vote if they approved a rule blocking amendments on the D.C. vote bill.

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