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House panel backs bill that would place statues of Douglass, L'Enfant in Capitol

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has led efforts to put statues of Frederick Douglass, left, and Pierre L'Enfant in the Capitol.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has led efforts to put statues of Frederick Douglass, left, and Pierre L'Enfant in the Capitol.
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By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 15, 2010

A House committee approved a bill Wednesday that would put statues of two D.C. luminaries in the Capitol, but only after the panel's top Democrat and Republican squabbled over voting rights and whether the city should be equated with a state or a U.S. territory.

The House Administration Committee voted along party lines for a measure that calls for placing statues of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and architect Pierre L'Enfant in Statuary Hall, just as the 50 states have two statues apiece in the halls of the Capitol. The Douglass and L'Enfant statues have been sitting at One Judiciary Square, awaiting permission to move into the legislative branch.

The bill has been a longtime project of Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) but had taken a back seat to efforts by her and others to give the District voting rights in the House. That effort is stalled, and committee Chairman Robert A. Brady (D-Pa.) took pains Wednesday to say that the two issues are unrelated.

"I want to assure members that this has nothing to do with D.C. voting rights, over which this committee has no jurisdiction," Brady said.

But the panel's ranking Republican, Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.), wasn't buying it, saying the statues bill "tries to show that there is an equality between the District of Columbia and the other states."

Lungren offered an amendment to Norton's bill that would have reduced the District's statue quota from two to one -- making clear that the city is different from the states -- and that would have given each U.S. territory a statue.

The amendment was defeated, and the committee passed a separate bill giving one statue apiece to American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"There is a distinction between the states of the union, the territories [and] the District of Columbia," Lungren said, criticizing "those who are trying to circumvent the Constitution" by saying the District deserves equal status with the states. He added that he supports ceding most of the District to Maryland.

"There are significant differences between the District of Columbia and the other territories seeking statues," Brady replied, noting that the city has electoral votes and that its residents pay federal taxes.

After her bill was approved and the session was gaveled to a close, Norton said it was "surprising the length to which Republicans will go to diminish the status of citizens of the District of Columbia." She marveled that "we have to beg for two statues that we should have had from the beginning."

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) has pledged to bring the bill up for a vote before the full chamber soon. Its prospects in the Senate remain unclear, particularly if other Republicans echo Lungren's concerns.

"I would think that a Democratic House with a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president could at least pass a statue bill," Norton said.


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