Hoyer: D.C. voting rights bill likely dead for this session
The Washington Post's Ben Pershing reports that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has announced that a D.C. voting rights bill will not come up this session, in part because of opposition to an amendment that would have eliminated most of the District's gun-control laws.
"At this point in time I do not see the ability to move it in this session of Congress," said Hoyer (D-Md.), who added that he was "extraordinarily disappointed."
D.C. has long sought a vote in the House, but many city leaders have expressed concerns about the gun amendment, and Hoyer blamed the amendment for preventing the measure from advancing.
The D.C. Council planned to reaffirm their opposition to the amendment today. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, will introduce a resolution at the council meeting stating that Congress "must not adopt" the gun amendment if the bill advances.
A year ago, the Senate passed a D.C. voting rights bill for the first time since 1978, but lawmakers attached language that would wipe out most local gun laws and restrict the D.C. Council's power to enact new ones. House leaders shelved the legislation when it became clear that it would be difficult to block the gun amendment.
Under the voting measure, the House would add two members: one to the overwhelmingly Democratic District and the other, temporarily, to Republican-leaning Utah. That seat would then go to the state next in line for a representative based on the 2010 Census.
Hoyer said the bill was felled by a "combination of issues." In addition to divisions over provisions concerning the District's gun laws, the measure was also hurt by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch's (R) declaration that he would oppose it because his state would be granted an at large congressional seat, rather than a new district whose lines the state's leaders could draw on their own.
But while Hoyer alluded to the Utah dispute, he made clear that the gun control language was the biggest stumbling block.
"The price was too high," Hoyer said.
Having lodged his objection to the House version of the voting rights measure, Hatch said Tuesday he was pleased by Hoyer's decision to pull it.
"If the choice was between this deeply-flawed bill and no bill at all, no bill is hands down the better option," Hatch said in a statement issued by his office. "This legislation made a mockery of our system of federalism by dictating to the State of Utah how it chooses its elected representatives. This type of arrogant, Washington-knows-best attitude is exactly why people are so angry, and why I'm glad this legislation will not move forward through the House."
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's non-voting House member, said she asked Hoyer to pull the bill after negotiations with the pro-gun lobby were unsuccessful. Norton said she and the Democratic leadership were "shocked" by what she said was "NRA-drafted" gun language that would have gone further than the Senate bill in loosening the city's gun-control laws.
"I cannot agree to these egregious changes," Norton said in a statement. The changes, she said, would "directly proliferate guns throughout the District" and would have further eroded support for the legislation among Democrats, particularly in the Senate.
Norton and voting rights advocates said Tuesday that they would regroup and develop new strategies for reviving a voting rights bill.
Mendelson's resolution does not specify whether the D.C. Council would support the voting rights bill if the House does not remove the gun amendment. But a clear majority on the council believes that the voting rights bill should be killed if it also repeals most of the city's gun control laws and prevents D.C. leaders from enacting new ones.
In an emotional closed-door debate over breakfast this morning, council members decried the gun amendment, calling it an insulting infringement on Home Rule. Many members spoke passionately about District residents who have died from gun violence.
"I've got to look people in the faces and when they look back at me, I want them to respect me," council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said. "I honestly believe they will not respect me when they hear I traded their safety for a vote" in Congress.
Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) called the voting rights bill "a devils bargain" if it also means that the city would have to allow the possession of semiautomatic weapons.
"It's a matter of principle," Cheh said. "We cannot allow ourselves to be maneuvered this way because, if you think about, what is the point of the one vote" in Congress?
A small majority of the 13-member council appeared willing to at least consider supporting the voting rights bill, even if it included the gun amendment.
Council members David A. Catania (I-At Large) argued that the National Rifle Association, which pushed for the gun amendment would probably revive the effort to undo the city's gun laws in another form later this year if the voting rights bill is shelved.
"This is a very tricky thing," Catania said. "We may wind up with our gun laws stripped without a vote ... anyway."
Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 1) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) also appeared open to supporting the voting rights bill, even with the gun amendment.
"There are not going to be legal guns committing these crimes, it's going to be illegal guns," Alexander said. "There are still going to be AK-47s, even without the gun amendment."
But council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who was wounded in a shooting at City Hall in 1977, spoke about the nine youths gunned down in Southeast Washington last month. Barry told his colleagues "to talk to the countless parents who have lost their children" before they agree to support the gun amendment.
"Dr. King would be turning over in his grave," Barry said of the deal to swap voting rights for a slackening of gun control laws. "I have talked to hundreds of children who have got gunned down on the streets. We can sacrifice one vote for freedom and principle."
Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), however, fears that the gun amendment will surface one way or another because the NRA has considerable influence in Congress.
"It's just a matter of self-respect, we should reject this," Graham said. He then added, "But if they can't do it in April, they will do it in September because they know they have (the votes), and they have it with the support of the Democratic Party, which is the most shocking thing of all."
This post has been updated since it was first published.
-- Ben Pershing and Tim Craig
April 20, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
Categories: D.C. Council , Marion Barry , Tim Craig , Vincent C. Gray , Voting Rights | Tags: Congress, District of Columbia voting rights, Marion Barry
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