Deal on D.C. vote in House to be revived on Capitol Hill

By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 15, 2010

Congressional leaders intend to resurrect a D.C. voting rights bill as early as next week, despite opposition from many city leaders to an amendment that would eliminate most of the District's gun-control laws.

The final details of the bill were being worked out Wednesday, but House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said he expects the legislation to clear the House and to include some version of the pro-gun language that has bogged down the measure since last year.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the city's non-voting House member, and congressional leaders said they are negotiating to weaken the gun amendment language. But Norton said she is unwilling to sacrifice the opportunity to win a long-sought voting seat for the District by insisting on a stand-alone bill.

"This is the best chance we've had to get a House vote for D.C. in my lifetime," Norton said. "Nobody would leave it on the table because it's not at all clear when there will be another chance."

The time is right, Norton and other advocates said, because the bill's prospects could diminish if the Democratic majority narrows after this year's midterm elections and if the release of 2010 Census figures undercuts the legislative deal.

A year ago, the Senate passed a D.C. voting rights bill for the first time since 1978, but lawmakers attached language that would wipe out most local gun laws and restrict the D.C. Council's power to enact new ones. House leaders shelved the legislation when it became clear that it would be difficult to block the gun amendment.

Under the measure, the House would add two members: one to the overwhelmingly Democratic District and the other, temporarily, to Republican-leaning Utah. That seat would then go to the state next in line for a representative based on the 2010 Census.

Last year, many city leaders, including Norton, fiercely opposed loosening the District's gun laws. And on Wednesday, council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) denounced the possibility of a trade-off. "It's wrong, it's undemocratic and it's insulting, and we should not kneel down on our basic principles just to get this bill through," she said. "It's way too bitter a pill that we should be forced to sacrifice our public safety."

A spokeswoman for council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), who is running for mayor, said he would not support the initiative if it removes the council's right to legislate firearms restrictions. "He believes the majority of our citizens would have our gun laws remain, not be weakened," spokeswoman Doxie McCoy said.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), however, said he told Norton Wednesday that he would help her move the bill, even if it includes what he considers objectionable gun language. "We've had great momentum on voting rights, and we need to move forward," Fenty said in an interview with NewsChannel 8.

A recent Washington Post poll finds broad support (83 percent) among District residents for legislation that would give the city a full voting member in the House. Support spans differences in race, sex, age and geography, dipping below 80 percent only among conservatives (71 percent) and those in the lowest income and education categories, according to the poll, conducted in January.

Nationally, almost six in 10 respondents said they favor D.C. voting rights legislation in a 2009 Post-ABC poll.

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