U.S. House Leaders Strategize on How to Pass D.C. Vote Bill

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Senior House officials plotted strategy yesterday on how to pass a D.C. vote bill that has gotten bogged down over an amendment weakening the city's gun laws, but no breakthrough appeared imminent.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said he was confident the voting-rights bill would clear the House this year and go to the president. But he offered no timetable. He said it would be difficult to block the gun amendment, given its popularity in Congress.

"We know the Childers amendment enjoys majority support before the House of Representatives," Hoyer told reporters, referring to the gun amendment. "We have to work within that context."

Asked whether lawmakers might be offered the chance to vote on a stand-alone bill on D.C. gun regulations in exchange for a "clean" voting-rights bill, Hoyer said, "That's certainly one of the things we're discussing."

If such a deal was possible, he said, "I'd be for that option."

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and many city leaders have strongly opposed the amendment, which would repeal most of the District's gun-control laws and limit its ability to impose new ones. A bill similar to the amendment passed the House last year with the support of pro-gun Democrats but lost steam in the Senate.

The D.C. vote legislation would give the city its first full member of the House. It passed the Senate last month with the gun amendment. It stalled in the House after the National Rifle Association threatened to score lawmakers on whether they would permit the amendment. Many representatives are reluctant to hurt their 100 percent NRA rating.

Norton said yesterday that she hopes to persuade pro-gun Democrats to allow an up-or-down vote on the D.C. voting rights measure without permitting the amendment or a new gun bill.

"It is possible to get the voting-rights bill out of the House as we got it out last time," she said, referring to the approval of the measure in 2007. Getting the votes of conservative Democrats, though, "would take some work by various members, especially the leadership," she said.

Norton appealed for the support of pro-gun Democratic House members, calling it a " civil rights" issue.

She also met with Hoyer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), and other members of the chamber's leadership and the Congressional Black Caucus to look at how to pass the bill without the amendment.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said Friday, "This may be the only time we can get Congress to vote on getting . . . a representative."

Former representative Tom Davis, the Virginia Republican who originally crafted the D.C. vote bill, said it could pass if gun supporters are offered a chance to take up a separate measure on the city's firearms regulations. That might pass the Senate or might not, he said.

Staff writer Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

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