D.C. statues bill caught up in voting rights, gun law controversies
Forget about a living, breathing member of the House. The District is having trouble just getting representatives made of marble into Congress.
A bill that would add statues of two D.C. luminaries -- abolitionist Frederick Douglass and architect Pierre L'Enfant -- to the halls of the Capitol has stalled and may not make it out of the House before the end of the 111th Congress, as the seemingly innocuous measure has become snagged by the ongoing controversies over voting rights and the District's gun laws.
The bill, a longtime project of D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), cleared a House committee in July and appeared headed for the chamber floor, with the statues of Douglass and L'Enfant completed and waiting at One Judiciary Square for their invitation into the Capitol. But as is often the case when D.C.-related matters arise in Congress, the issue turned out to be more complicated than meets the eye.
Republicans and some conservative Democrats are eager to weaken the District's gun laws, and have previously tried to attach such language to a bill giving D.C. voting rights in the House. Now, those pro-gun members see the statues bill as another potential vehicle.
"It faces obstacles, but the gun bill is only one of them," Norton said Wednesday. "The Republicans have conflated this small bill with voting rights."
When the statues measure cleared the House Administration Committee in July, the panel's top Republican, Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.), opposed it, complaining that the measure "tries to show that there is an equality between the District of Columbia and the other states."
Norton's bill would give the District two statues in the Capitol, just as each of the 50 states currently has two statues in Statuary Hall and the adjoining hallways near the House chamber. Lungren tried to amend Norton's bill to give the District just one statue, while also awarding each U.S. territory a statue.
Lungren's effort in committee failed, but now Democrats believe that there are enough Republicans who agree with him to defeat the measure if it is brought to the House floor under suspension of the rules -- a fast-track procedure that prohibits amendments and requires a two-thirds majority for passage.
If Democrats try to bring the bill to the floor under regular order, then Republicans or a sympathetic Democrat could try to attach language gutting the District's gun laws, and Democratic leaders want to avoid forcing their members into a controversial gun vote less than two months before Election Day.
Thus, another District-related bill is stuck with no obvious solution.
At House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's (D-Md.) weekly media briefing Wednesday, WTOP commentator Mark Plotkin pressed Hoyer on whether the bill would move in the 111th Congress, particularly given the possibility that Republicans could be in control of the chamber by January.
"That's on our list to figure out what we can do, when we can do it," Hoyer said, while declining to entertain the possibility that his party will lose the majority. Hoyer also refused to predict whether the bill was more likely to move this month, or in a lame-duck session after the election.
Similarly, Norton said, "I can't make a prediction. ... I can't say we have an ironclad way to get this bill out yet."
September 15, 2010; 3:35 PM ET
Categories: Ben Pershing , Congressional Oversight , Eleanor Holmes Norton , Voting Rights
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