Congressional Backers of D.C. Vote Suspend Fight for Bill

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the House majority leader.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the House majority leader. (Chip Somodevilla - Getty Images)
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By Tim Craig and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Congressional leaders abandoned efforts yesterday to win passage of the D.C. voting rights bill this summer after city leaders wouldn't withdraw their opposition to an amendment that would do away with the District's strict gun-control laws.

The bill, which would give the District a voting member in the House of Representatives and add a member from Utah, has languished on Capitol Hill since the House and Senate approved the gun amendment in February.

Many city leaders, as well as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), fiercely opposed the gun amendment, but Democratic leaders in Congress were unable to round up enough votes to remove it.

At a news conference yesterday, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said he was giving up hope of getting a D.C. voting rights bill approved soon.

"There is not a consensus among the leadership of the District of Columbia on this issue as I understand it. And as a result of there not being consensus, I don't think we're going to be able to move the bill at this point in time," said Hoyer, whose dual role as a congressional leader and a resident of neighboring Prince George's County has made him the point man on Capitol Hill on the voting rights legislation.

Hoyer's announcement came after an attempt by Norton on Friday to salvage the legislation, which until recently was viewed as the District's strongest effort to get a voting member of Congress.

After Norton and Hoyer met Friday, they tried to hammer out a compromise that would weaken the gun amendment, but they were unable to sell it over the weekend to D.C. government officials and other interested parties, according to an e-Mail Norton sent to congressional leaders yesterday.

"People who support the bill were divided on whether to go forward," Norton said in an interview.

Norton said she remains optimistic that there will be other opportunities to bring up the bill. "We do not believe it is hopeless, but we do believe if we moved now, we would be walking straight into a hopeless situation," she said.

But D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said he thinks the "window of opportunity" has passed for the year.

"Now people are going to move onto other things," said Evans, one of the few council members willing to accept the gun amendment. "It was a good effort on everyone's part, but at the end of the day, it just didn't happen, and that is very sad for the District."

The apparent demise, at least in the short term, of the voting rights bill underscores the power of the national gun lobby and District officials' hardening views about setting their own firearms policies.

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