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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 04/20/2010

DC voting rights: not this session

By Washington Post editors

The effort to secure a voting member of Congress for the District was dealt a stinging defeat Tuesday, just days after Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton said legislation would be introduced as early as Wednesday, according to the DC Wire blog.

At a meeting with reporters a short while ago, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) suggested that a gun amendment attached to the measure and opposition from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) are to blame for failure to move ahead. 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. The “fault lies with those who in my opinion do not honor the rights of DC residents, who want to use this legislation as a vehicle for issues that are not germane,” Hoyer said. “At this point in time, I do not see the ability to move it in this session of Congress.”

Having lodged his objection to the House version of the voting rights measure, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) 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.

Local opposition to the bill had also been growing over the past few days, with the national and local branches of the League of Women Voters as well as D.C. For Democracy, which bills itself as the city’s largest progressive coalition, saying they would not support the measure if introduced. And Tuesday morning the D.C. Council agreed on language for a resolution that questions the federal legislation and its gun amendment.

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.

This post has been updated

-- Ben Pershing, Ann E. Marimow and Tim Craig

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By Washington Post editors  | April 20, 2010; 11:30 AM ET
Tags:  District of Columbia voting rights, Eleanor Holmes-Norton, League of Women Voters  
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