- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

President Bush will be advised to veto a bill granting the District congressional voting rights if the measure makes it through the House and Senate to his desk, the White House announced yesterday.

“The bill violates the Constitution’s provisions governing the composition and election of the United States Congress,” White House officials said in a statement of administration policy. “Accordingly, if [the bill] were presented to the president, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill.”

The likely veto is a threat to the D.C. voting rights measure, which is expected to be approved by the House on Friday before heading to the Senate.

The bill would provide a seat in Congress for the mostly Democratic District for the first time in more than 200 years. In a bipartisan compromise, it also would create an additional at-large House seat for Utah, a state that votes largely Republican.

The White House last week announced its opposition to the bill based on the argument that the U.S. Constitution — in Article 1, Section 2 — limits representation in the House to representatives of the states.

But officials previously had adopted a “wait-and-see” approach on whether Mr. Bush would veto the bill.

In yesterday’s statement, the Bush administration said a veto would be advised in part because Congress does not have the authority to grant the District voting rights through the proposed legislation.

“The District of Columbia is not a state,” the statement reads. “Accordingly, congressional representation for the District of Columbia would require a constitutional amendment.”

Proponents of the bill — including former Assistant Attorney General Viet D. Dinh, who helped craft the Patriot Act — have argued that Congress has authority under the Constitution’s “District clause” to grant the city voting rights in Congress.

Advocates of the bill also said yesterday that the measure is by no means dead despite the perceived presidential threat.

“The veto threat is not one of their harder veto threats,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of the advocacy group D.C. Vote. “We think it would be shocking to see this president issue the second veto of his entire administration over a voting rights act bill. I don’t think it will change anything up on the Hill.”

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican — one of the bill’s main sponsors along with D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat — said Mr. Bush has threatened to veto bills in the past and been “bucked” by Republicans.

“Obviously, they’re pulling out all the stops at this point,” Mr. Davis said. “What saddens me is that as the president looks back on legacy, [he’s spent] billions of dollars to bring democracy to Baghdad and the capital of Afghanistan and threatens to veto a bill bringing democracy to the capital of the free world.

“It’s disappointing, but the bill will pass.”

Mrs. Norton said the news that the president has been advised to veto the bill if it passes means “the fight has now begun.”

She said last night that she had spoken with a high-level official in the Bush administration and personally lobbied on behalf of the legislation.

She said she and Mr. Davis are “resolute in continuing to work for passage.”

“This is not the time to give up,” she said. “It is a time to pick up the gauntlet, pass the bill in the House and Senate and give the president a bill I believe he will then find it hard to refuse.”

The bill’s prospects are not as certain in the Senate as they are in the House.

Advocates are hinging their hopes on the backing of Utah’s two Republican senators and how much support they can draw from their colleagues for the measure.

Still, Mr. Davis said Bush administration officials will have to decide exactly how hard to fight against the legislation in the coming days.

“We’ll vote Friday,” Mr. Davis said. “And we’ll see who wins.”

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