Press Item ● Congress
For Immediate Release: 
April 19, 2007
Contact Info: 
Mary Beth Sheridan

The Washington Post

The House today passed legislation to give the District a full seat in Congress, marking the biggest victory in nearly three decades in the city's quest for voting rights.

Members voted 241 to 177 for the measure, a political compromise that would add two seats to the House: one for the heavily Democratic District, and the other for the state next in line for an additional representative. Currently, that state is Republican-leaning Utah. Later, in a companion bill, they voted 216 to 203 to pay for creation of the two seats.

"This legislation corrects a serious flaw in our democracy," declared House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Democrats managed to steer through the bill a month after having to suddenly pull it from the floor. Last month, House Republicans tried to attach language overturning the District's strict anti-gun laws, forcing Democrats into retreat. This time, the Democrats fashioned the bill in a way to prevent the Republicans from offering similar amendments.

The legislation still faces major hurdles. Democrats do not appear to have enough votes to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. And, if it clears that chamber, the White House has threatened a veto.

The House legislation is sponsored by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and the city's non-voting congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has also championed the measure, leading thousands of demonstrators to Congress this week to demand representation for the city.

"This is a great and historic day for the residents of the District of Columbia," Fenty said in a statement after the vote. "I look forward to the continued success of the D.C. Voting Rights Act and urge the Senate to take up this important legislation immediately."

Supporters called the bill's passage by the House their biggest victory since 1978, when Congress approved a constitutional amendment to give the city two senators as well as a House representative. That amendment later died after failing to win passage by enough states. The current legislation does not provide the District with senators.

The House Republican leadership strongly opposed the bill, saying it violates the constitutional requirement that representatives come from states. "This legislation was constitutionally suspect last month, and it is constitutionally suspect today," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

Many Republicans said they were not against voting rights for D.C. residents but believed that the best way to provide them was through a constitutional amendment or by ceding much of the District back to Maryland.

"There are ways these individuals can receive representation without trampling on the Constitution," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

Some Republicans have also charged that Democrats will use it as a mechanism to eventually gain two D.C. Senate seats.

The bill's supporters argued that a D.C. seat can be created under constitutional provisions giving Congress sweeping powers over the District.

"District residents just want what Americans elsewhere enjoy: a full share of American democracy," said Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.)

Democrats had expected to use their majority in the House to pass the legislation last month. But Republicans introduced a motion to send the bill back to committee with added language stripping the District of its tough anti-gun laws.

That put the Democratic leaders in a box. They knew that some Democratic members from pro-gun areas would feel obliged to back the motion. If it passed, however, it would have subjected the legislation to potentially lengthy delays in committee, and possibly even killed it, the leaders said.

Democrats realized they had inadvertently turned the D.C. voting-rights bill into a target for all sorts of motions. The source of their trouble: they had added a provision at the last minute to pay for the new House seats. That provision widened the range of permissible attachments to the bill.

In recent weeks, Democratic staffers successfully crafted legislation that would be shielded from such parliamentary maneuvers. They put forward two bills: one adding the House seats, and another that would pay for them, by tweaking a tax provision.

In drawing up two narrowly-written bills, the Democrats aimed to exclude pro-gun language and similar motions that would be deemed not germane under House rules. They also were trying to keep their pledge to pay for any new legislation and not increase the federal deficit.

Republicans protested that Democrats did not allow them to offer alternative legislation on granting the District a vote, such as a plan to allow citizens of D.C. to vote in congressional elections as Maryland residents.

"It was an our-way-or-the highway approach to a very important issue," said Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio).