D.C. Voting Rights

Sunday, June 14, 2009

THE PUSH for voting rights for the District of Columbia has stalled because -- or so congressional leaders say -- city officials can't agree on a course of action. Let's be clear about who really is at fault.

First are Republican opponents of democracy for the District who are too gutless or feckless to oppose it directly. They hatched a poisonous amendment that would strip the District of its authority to regulate guns. If their true goal had anything to do with guns, they could have overridden the recent D.C. gun legislation. They didn't bother even to try.

Then there are the Democrats who ostensibly support voting rights but weren't going to risk anything on its behalf. There are the leaders in the House and Senate who were caught flat-footed by the GOP maneuver, and the legislators who didn't dare stand up to the gun lobby. The president and his attorney general who might have made a difference but couldn't rouse themselves to interfere.

In announcing last week that he was suspending efforts to pass a bill that would give the District a voting member in the House, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) put the onus on District leaders. But we don't blame city officials for refusing to decide between two bad alternatives: forgoing voting rights or winning them at the dangerous expense of public safety.

Instead, we think that Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) should be figuring out how he can fix the mistake he made when he cavalierly signed on to the gun amendment, giving license to more than 20 Senate Democrats to follow suit. Likewise, Mr. Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) should continue to press members of their caucus to make this a vote about principle, not politics. And President Obama, who supported D.C. voting rights when there was no political cost, should lead the way in fulfilling a promise that Americans who pay taxes, go to war and serve their country should have a voice in that government.

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