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Gray hits Norton’s loss of House privilege

GOP revokes partial vote for delegates

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2011

After promising at Sunday's inauguration to press the "taxation without representation" issue, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and other city leaders marched on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to express their displeasure over House Republicans' plans to trim back the D.C. delegate's power in the chamber.

The incoming 112th Congress is poised to strip non-voting D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of her vote in the Committee of the Whole — a vote Mrs. Norton has held since 2007. But before recessing for Christmas, House Republicans announced their intentions to reverse that decision by a Democrat-led House.

"Delegates and resident commissioners will not be able to vote in the committee of the whole," the Dec. 21 summary said.

At a gathering Tuesday at the Rayburn House Office Building, Mr. Gray called the repeal of the 2007 move an "absolutely outrageous insult."

He and other D.C. congressional voting rights advocates also had hoped that a Democratic Congress and president might even make Mrs. Norton a full member, but a deal to do that foundered over the city's gun laws.

"Here we are just two short years later fighting to preserve what little we have," Mr. Gray said. "We have the smallest sliver of democracy absolutely imaginable."

The Committee of the Whole is a panel of all House members that can vote to approve or reject changes to legislation on the House floor, but cannot vote on its final passage.

Until 2007, Mrs. Norton — and other delegates from non-state entities, such as Puerto Rico and American Samoa — could speak on the House floor, sit on the House's numerous committees and subcommittees, and even cast votes as members of those panels.

"We will be making every effort to retain our vote in the Committee of the Whole, and to convince our Republican colleagues that this vote benefits the reputation of the 'people's House' by maximizing the participation of members to the greater benefit of the American people," Mrs. Norton said.

The U.S. Constitution grants Congress power over all D.C. affairs, but voting rights is a touchy subject in the nation's capital, where residents have never had the full congressional privileges of their state counterparts.

The passage of the 23rd Amendment in 1961 gave residents the right to vote in presidential elections. The District gained limited home-rule powers — including the right to elect a mayor and City Council members — in 1973. Unless Congress says otherwise, the city also will begin electing an attorney general in 2014.

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh drew considerable applause during her own inaugural speech Sunday when she said the transition of power bore "witness to the miracle of democracy."

But she also spoke on the city's lack of voting rights while "our soldiers bleed" and "we pay tribute with our treasury" dollars. If Congress won't grant D.C. residents full representation, she said, "then give us our money back."

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