On the first day of the 115th Congress, members buzzed Tuesday about the repeal of President Obama’s health-care law, tax reform and whether to gut the ethics office.
All Eleanor Holmes Norton wanted to discuss was a vote. And a symbolic one at that.
For the fourth consecutive session, Norton (D), the nonvoting D.C. representative, formally asked the speaker of the House for the ability to vote on amendments and procedural issues.
Again, she was thwarted.
This time, she brought D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and a veterans advocate with her.
Norton pushed for a vote in the Committee of the Whole as “a down payment on full voting rights for the more than 680,000 American citizens residing in the District of Columbia, who pay the highest federal income taxes per capita in the United States and have fought and died in every American war, yet have no vote on the floor of the House of Representatives, ‘the people’s house,’ ” she said.
When Democrats have controlled the House, Norton, the other nonvoting delegates — from American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands — and Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner were given the courtesy.
In Norton’s quarter-century of service, that has happened in congressional sessions starting in 1993, 2007 and 2009. The privilege was revoked each time Republicans took back control of the House.
For Norton, the ability to cast a vote as part of the Committee of the Whole is largely symbolic — it would allow her to vote on amendments on the House floor but not on final legislation.
And, in the past, if a vote by a delegate would determine the outcome of a particular measure, the House voted again — without them.
Still, Norton maintained that the vote is important as the District braces for the Trump administration, coupled with the GOP-led House and Senate that can exert control over D.C. laws. “The only gifts this Congress has for the District are burdens we do not want,” Norton said Monday in a speech at the swearing-in ceremony of the D.C. Council.
Yet on Tuesday, Norton said she remained optimistic about finding common ground with Republicans as she did in the 1990s with an unlikely partner: then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Asked to identify her current Republican allies in the House, Norton said she wouldn’t “name names,” before adding, “I search and I hope to find.”
Norton sent her request for a vote in writing to Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) but said she has yet to receive a response. A spokeswoman for Ryan did not return requests for comment.
Norton’s resolution to restore the District’s vote was easily defeated on a party-line vote by Republicans who unanimously voted to table the motion.
Bowser maintained that a symbolic vote for Norton would represent a first step toward equal rights for District residents, who she said pay $26.4 billion in federal income taxes — more than contributed by residents of 22 states.
“We’re not begging,” said Bowser, who was accompanied by D.C. Office of Veterans Affairs Director Ely S. Ross. “We’re not asking for special treatment. We’re asking for equal treatment, and this is one way to do it.”
The news conference took place in a small meeting room in the bustling Rayburn House Office Building, as passersby spoke loudly in the hallways and new members prepared to be sworn in.
Bowser called it a bitter pill that on top of the tax burden, veterans living in the District have no representation in Congress.
Ross added, “It should offend every American that in our nation’s capital 30,000 veterans, who risked their lives and fought for our country, are denied the right to vote and they lack voting representation in Congress.”