- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Senate passed a key preliminary vote Tuesday for the District to get full voting rights in Congress, but the legislation still faces amendments in the House and Senate that threaten to kill the decadeslong effort.

The 62-34 vote allows the Senate to formally begin discussion of the bill, bringing the District closer to receiving voting rights in Congress than it has been in 30 years.

Eight Republicans voted Tuesday in favor of the bill. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was one of two Republicans who did not vote to move the bill in a failed 2007 effort but did so this time. However, Mrs. Murkowski said she would not vote for the bill when it comes up for a final vote.

“This is a big first step toward righting a wrong that has been going on for centuries,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “The bill before the Senate is fair, bipartisan and long overdue.”

Leaders in the District were ecstatic about clearing the hurdle that held up the bill in 2007.

“Today’s vote is in a class by itself in the history of our city and our country,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting House member.

The bill could be weighed down with unpopular amendments, such as reducing gun control, which would make it difficult for Senate Democrats to vote for the legislation.

“Oftentimes when we promote D.C. voting rights, we see attempts by the opposition to advance a pro-gun agenda,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, a D.C. voting rights advocacy group. “We are anticipating dealing with a gun amendment, and we’re asking our supporters in the Senate to vote against all extraneous amendments.”

However, those closest to the issue said they did not know who plans to propose such an amendment.

When similar legislation cleared the House in 2007, Republicans successfully stalled the measure for a month by trying to add language to the bill to repeal much of the District’s gun ban, which has since been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Senate will start discussion of the bill and possible amendments Wednesday. The bill will likely face final passage in the Senate on Thursday, Mr. Reid said. The House is expected to vote on the bill next week.

Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, said last week that he would attach an amendment that would prevent the Federal Communications Commission from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, a policy instituted in 1949 that required broadcasters to air both sides of controversial issues.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, applauded the vote and said he is prepared to continue to work toward the bill’s passage.

“In the short term, [amendments] will be the biggest obstacle,” he said. “But I am confident in our leadership and I am ready to make calls if need be.”

A bill granting the District congressional representation will likely face a legal challenge that would end in the Supreme Court.

“This is to try to do by statute that which the Constitution requires you to do by constitutional amendment,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

“I think we all know on both sides of this question, it’ll end up in court, and ultimately the Supreme Court will determine whether or not you can do this by statute.”

Critics say the bill violates Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, which states that “representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states.”

The District is not considered a state and is largely overseen by Congress.

Supporters say Congress has the power to give the District a representative because of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which states Congress must “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District.

In response to political concerns, the bill would add two seats to the House of Representatives - one from the largely Democratic District and one from Republican-leaning Utah.

Utah now has one Democratic representative and two Republicans in the House and is the next to receive a new seat based on the 2000 census.

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