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DeLay’s Arguments on D.C. Representation Are Based on Fiction

On March 8, a reception was held for new Members of Congress in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall. The 41 new House Members and the nine freshman Senators of the 109th Congress were treated to food and refreshments by their host, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. Several speakers offered words of welcome and advice, including the society’s president, Ron Sarasin; the mayor of the District of Columbia, Anthony Williams (D); political satirist Mark Russell; and Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the House Majority Leader.

Williams said he would welcome calls to his office about any matters of interest or concern to Members of Congress. The mayor concluded his remarks with an impassioned, reasoned appeal for support of voting representation in Congress for residents of the District of Columbia.

Williams reminded the new Members that D.C. residents have served and died in all wars fought by the United States, including Iraq, where three D.C. soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Furthermore, the mayor continued, D.C. residents are subject to all taxes and laws enacted by Congress, yet unlike residents of every other democratic nation, they have no vote in their national legislature.

Speaking after the mayor, Russell was able to effectively weave remarks in favor of D.C. voting representation in Congress into his humorous and engaging routine that evening.

Finally, DeLay spoke about the need of Members to never neglect family and home, no matter how intrusive the legislative process. DeLay used several amusing anecdotes to make his point.

Before DeLay left the reception, I took the opportunity to engage him in a conversation about the lack of D.C. voting representation in Congress. I told him how difficult it has been to build the D.C. Republican Party when President Bush and the Republican leadership have not advocated representation, despite a long tradition in the Republican Party for such support.

I then specifically asked if he would support the proposal of Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) for establishing a vote for D.C. in the House. DeLay replied, “No way — that would be turning over control of the federal government to D.C.” That argument is not rational or credible on its face.

I then told DeLay that I have a son who has written Bush about D.C. voting representation, after which I asked him, “What would you say to my son — who will graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in May and be in harm’s way in Iraq by Christmas — about your opposition to his right to be represented in Congress?” DeLay’s response was the often-repeated fiction, “Tell him that’s what the Founding Fathers intended.”

DeLay’s chilling retort is pure fiction. There is nothing in the records of the drafting of the Constitution or the debates over ratification in the states supporting that contention. In fact, Alexander Hamilton said during the ratification debate in New York that the matter of a voting seat in Congress should be a given legislative priority once D.C. achieved a population equivalent to a Congressional district.

For 125 years after its founding in 1854, voting representation in Congress was a stated and actively sought part of the Republican Party’s legislative program. During those 125 years it was Democrats who were justifying opposition to D.C. voting rights by citing the fictional nonsense about the Founding Fathers’ intent.

As DeLay broke off our conversation and began to walk away, I gave my card to his attentive aide and requested a meeting with her boss to continue our dialogue. I said I would like to bring my son along so he could speak about this matter so especially important to him and all residents of the District of Columbia. To date, no invitation from the Majority Leader has arrived.

Nelson Rimensnyder, a member of the D.C. Republican Committee, was associated for 20 years with the U.S. House Committee on the District of Columbia.

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