Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promised Wednesday to give floor time to the bill that would grant the District of Columbia a full vote in the House, support Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) referred to as “not only significant, but historic.”
The bill, scheduled to be marked up in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee next week, still faces a tough road, as supporters said they lack the votes needed to avoid a filibuster.
“We’ve got our work yet ahead of us because we need 60 votes, and I don’t think we have them right now,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), who sponsored the bill alongside Utah GOP Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett. “But we’re in reach.”
The District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act would grant D.C. a full vote in the House while giving an additional seat to Utah, which just missed getting an additional Representative after the 2000 Census. A similar version, crafted by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and co-sponsored by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), passed the House in April.
Members of the D.C. City Council joined Reid, Lieberman, Norton and Fenty in the Capitol’s Lyndon B. Johnson Room on Wednesday to discuss the measure. Reid said he is optimistic about the bill’s chances, especially because it was passed with bipartisan support in the House.
“We’ve tried to build on that,” Lieberman added, referring to the co-sponsorship of Hatch and Bennett, who did not attend the meeting.
But before the bill can hit the Senate floor, it will have to pass the Lieberman-chaired Governmental Affairs Committee — where the outlook appears pretty good.
Five Democrats who sit on the panel — Sens. Tom Carper (Del.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Barack Obama (Ill.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) — have signed on as co-sponsors.
Republican support on the panel remains unclear. At a committee hearing last month, ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she was sympathetic to the District’s lack of representation but had constitutional concerns about the measure itself. On Wednesday, she reiterated that view.
“I support the goal of providing District residents with representation in the House. This is a fundamental fairness,” Collins said. “The question is how to do so in a way that is consistent with the Constitution.”
As for the Senate’s Republican leadership, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) repeatedly has said he opposes the bill on the grounds that it is unconstitutional to grant a nonstate Congressional representation.
White House officials have said they would recommend that President Bush veto the bill should it reach his desk. When John Elwood, the deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, testified before a Senate subcommittee in May, he upheld the administration’s opposition.
“If the District is to be accorded Congressional representation without statehood, it must be accomplished through a process that is consistent with our constitutional scheme, such as amendment,” Elwood said.
(Supporters argue the Constitution’s District Clause, which grants Congress the power to tax and extend court jurisdiction to D.C. residents, allows Members to extend representation.)
One potential constitutional concern already has been addressed by the Senate. In the measure passed by the House, the Utah provision would create an at-large seat — which opponents argued essentially would give Utah residents two House votes.
Among those concerned was Hatch, whose support is seen as key to Senate passage. So when Lieberman, Hatch and Bennett introduced their legislation, they made the Utah seat a fourth Congressional district, allowing the state’s Legislature to redistrict for the 111th Congress.
Despite the potential roadblocks ahead, voting rights advocates remained optimistic Wednesday about the bill’s chances.
“I think that this is a glorious moment,” Norton said, thanking Reid for making floor time available for the bill when the chamber has other matters to focus on, including immigration.
“It is an indication of the priority … the Democrats gave on this measure,” she added.
Reid thanked Norton, Fenty and Lieberman for their efforts, praising the Connecticut Senator for his longtime support of D.C. voting rights.
“He’s done it because he thinks it’s the right thing to do,” Reid said. “There’s nothing in it politically for him.”
Fenty praised the Democratic leadership for its support of the measure, which he said had been lacking in previous years.
“We have the leadership now,” Fenty added.
The mayor also thanked the City Council for its lobbying efforts, saying councilmembers have been “steadfast, intelligent, articulate and driven on this issue.”
Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells (D), whose district includes Capitol Hill, said it is time D.C. residents get a House vote — especially since so many people who live in the city work on Capitol Hill.
“It must be heartening for everybody who works in this building,” Wells said of Reid’s support.