Steny Hoyer Offers Impassioned Plea for D.C. Voting Rights

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 17, 2009

House Democrats have been considering a proposal that could get the District a full voting member in the House of Representatives by attaching it to a conference report of the defense spending bill.

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) acknowledged that he had heard "some discussion" of such a strategy when Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) asked him on the House floor Thursday to address a rumor about the potential action.

Hoyer's statements, which included passionate words about the rights of D.C. residents, revived the debate about D.C. voting rights Friday as the C-SPAN video and transcript of their exchange went viral.

"The people of Baghdad can elect members of their parliament today because our young men and women, and some not so young, fought, and too many died so that the people of Baghdad could elect a voting member of their parliament," Hoyer said. "It is somewhat ironic that in the symbol of democracy around the world, that our fellow citizens, some 600,000 of them, don't have a voting representative in their parliament, the House of Representatives, the people's House. . . . Now, whether or not that will be included in the defense bill, it is about democracy. It is about participation. It is about respect."

The move would be a twist in the ongoing fight over D.C. voting rights between Democrats and Republicans. Earlier this year, the D.C. voting rights bill appeared to be well on its way to being approved until the Senate and House passed a Republican-sponsored amendment that would strip the District of its gun-control laws.

The defense conference report could come to the floor in the next few weeks.

When McCarthy told Hoyer that he hoped they would get a "very clean" defense bill, Hoyer asked McCarthy to help him "do the same for the D.C. bill."

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said Hoyer's statements were powerful but "should not be read as the way we are going to get this bill done."

"We are not fastened on a specific proposal because we have a number of ways to get a bill we believe would be acceptable to District of Columbia residents," said Norton, who would not disclose the alternatives. "It is very fluid, and it is quite hopeful."

Norton added that she and others are strategizing to bring the bill back before the end of the year.

Stephanie Lundberg, Hoyer's spokeswoman, made similar comments in an e-mail: " . . . we are looking to bring it to the Floor as soon as we have a consensus on how to move forward."

McCarthy was not immediately available for further comment yesterday.

Ilir Zherka, executive director of the advocacy group DC Vote, said the group "was very encouraged by Hoyer's remarks" and believes they could have an impact on the debate by bringing national attention to the District's voting status.

"He was very forceful and eloquent. People watch C-SPAN," he said.

A statement released by Mafara Hobson, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's communications director, said: "The Administration remains committed to working with Congressional leaders to secure full voting representation as fast as humanly possible."

Staff writer Ben Pershing contributed to this report.

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