By David Nakamura and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 20, 2009
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said he believes that District residents support pushing a voting rights bill through Congress even if it means the city's gun control laws would be weakened by an amendment being offered by gun rights supporters.
In an interview with The Washington Post this week, Fenty (D) said that it would be a "tough call" to accept an amendment to the bill and that he hopes the city "won't have to make that choice."
The voting rights legislation would give the mostly Democratic District a seat in the House and an additional seat for majority Republican Utah. It was pulled from the House floor two weeks ago by Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who feared it would be amended. Fenty suggested that gun-related amendments, if adopted with the bill, could be overturned.
"Hopefully, it will be resolved, and I think there's a couple of strategies in play," Fenty said during an interview for "Voices of Power," a Post online series about Washington power players. "But if we had to make that call on a close margin, I do believe a majority of District residents say: 'Give us the vote. Give us the vote, and we hate this gun law, but we'll find a way to get rid of that if necessary.' "
The mayor's position appeared to differ from that of several D.C. Council members, who have questioned whether the city should support the legislation if it means loosening the firearms restrictions. The Senate already has approved a similar D.C. vote bill with an amendment that would overturn the gun control laws. The council passed a resolution opposing the move.
"I strongly disagree," said council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large). "He is under-appreciating the severity of the amendment. A lot of work is being done to get the amendment off the bill."
Hoyer has pledged to bring the bill back to the House floor. In the meantime, D.C. leaders, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), have been trying to figure out how to get 218 House members to support a legislative maneuver aimed at banning any amendments to the bill. They are reportedly two to three dozen votes shy of that number.
"I regret that the mayor's statement undercuts the progress that we have been making to get a gun amendment off the D.C. Voting Rights Act," a clearly frustrated Norton said last night.
"Perhaps the mayor has not had time to read the bill, but I have repeatedly emphasized . . . that the bill usurps entirely all D.C. mayoral and council jurisdiction over D.C. gun legislation in the future and gives the District's jurisdiction over guns exclusively to the Congress of the United States, where the [National Rifle Association] has had no trouble maintaining a majority. Mayor Fenty apparently spoke of coming back another day to remove the gun provision. . . . A reading of the bill will show that there can be no coming back if this amendment is attached."
Last night, Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, a lobbying group, said the city should not give up hope of winning the vote without a gun amendment.
"I think we're not at that moment yet," he said. "What we're doing now is trying to ensure the amendment is not put on the bill. . . . We're trying to step up the pressure, which is what we're going to do in the next few days."
Fenty said that if the city secured a House vote, it would give the District more power to fight laws it doesn't agree with, "such as getting rid of the amendment."
And, he added, the NRA will continue trying to overturn the city's gun-control laws even if the D.C. vote bill dies.
"We're probably going to fight the NRA every year on this issue," he said. "The opportunity to get a vote in the House of Representatives -- if it dies now, it probably won't come up for a long, long time."
Staff writer Lois Romano contributed to this report.