- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2007

Eleanor Holmes Norton’s official title in Congress is delegate, but the sign outside the office of the District’s nonvoting representative reads “Congresswoman,” and that’s how she likes it.

Now, as the District makes another push for full representation in the House of Representatives, Mrs. Norton stands to gain the full clout of the title that is dear to her.

Mrs. Norton and thousands of city residents are expected tomorrow to march on the U.S. Capitol to support a bill that would give the District a full vote on the floor for the first time. It would make Mrs. Norton, a Democrat, equal to the 435 other House members and, more importantly, give her more bargaining power on Capitol Hill. But the bill faces staunch opposition in Congress and from the White House.

For the nearly 16 years she has represented the city, Mrs. Norton has acted as a full member of Congress despite being limited to voting only in committees. Still, she can’t leverage her own floor vote with other members to win their support for her bills.

Asked how a full vote may change her work or her life, she scoffs, swats her hands in the air and walks to her desk to look at some business.

“The denial is to residents, the indignity is to residents,” says Mrs. Norton, who is loathe to consider the vote “hers.”

Even without a full vote in her eight previous terms, Mrs. Norton, 69, who earned two graduate degrees from Yale before the age of 30, has made significant headway in getting D.C. residents recognition as equal citizens.

Mrs. Norton helped steer the city out of financial crisis, won tuition-assistance grants for D.C. residents to colleges nationwide, and has stood up against what she sees as congressional meddling in the city’s development and tourism affairs.

In 2002, she got a stamp for the District after the U.S. Postal Service unveiled its “Greetings from America” series honoring the 50 states, but left out the nation’s capital, home to more than 580,000 residents.

“Look what I’ve gotten without the vote,” she readily acknowledges, while also embracing it as her signature issue.

Trained as a constitutional lawyer, Mrs. Norton has previously pursued statehood, but now says that a full vote in the House is the first step. Her latest bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, seeks to add a seat in the House for the largely Democratic District, balanced out by another for Republican-heavy Utah, which narrowly missed an additional seat in the last census.

The bill appeared headed for passage on the House floor last month, but Republicans unexpectedly injected an attempt to repeal the city’s long-standing handgun ban, and Democratic leaders decided to put off the vote.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said he intends to have the measure back on the House floor when legislators return this week.

“Rep. Norton is already a very effective voice for her constituents,” Mr. Hoyer said in an e-mail, “but providing with a vote will enable her to fully represent her constituents, who have wrongly been subject to taxation without representation for two centuries in violation of our country’s founding principles.”

The bill’s future is uncertain in the Senate, but even if it passes there, it would still face its biggest hurdle of all: the White House, where President Bush’s advisers have threatened to recommend a veto.

Opponents of the bill point out that the Constitution says the House should be composed of members chosen by “the people of several states” and argue that disqualifies the District because it is not a state.

But many legal experts say the Constitution empowers Congress to “exercise exclusive legislation” over the federal capital. They say that means Congress can, if it chooses, give the District voting rights.

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