- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

House Republicans derailed efforts yesterday to give the District congressional representation when they injected the city’s gun ban into the debate and turned an expected vote into a tumult.

“They are into gamesmanship, and they have been successful with some of the games they are playing,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who is the District’s nonvoting congressional representative and a co-sponsor of the bill. “I’m sure we will be back, and I’m sure we will prevail.”

The move by Republicans sparked confusion on the chamber floor and came just before the vote on the measure, which would give the District a congressional member with full voting rights for the first time in more than 200 years.

The measure was expected to pass in the Democratic-controlled Congress. However, Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, introduced a motion to add language to the bill to repeal much of the District’s gun ban. The ban was struck down by a federal appeals court earlier this month but remains in effect for now.

“My colleagues on the other side of the aisle have suggested today that District of Columbia citizens have the ‘right’ to a vote in Congress,” Mr. Smith said. “If that’s the case, then they must also agree that the citizens of the District should have the constitutionally guaranteed right to possess firearms and protect themselves.”

Mr. Smith’s maneuver put conservative, pro-gun Democrats in the sticky situation of either voting for the motion, which would effectively kill the bill upon it being sent back to committee, or voting against the motion, which would have been perceived as being in favor of strict gun control.

Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, called Mr. Smith’s motion “the most startling hypocrisy I have ever heard of on a bill of this magnitude.”

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a co-sponsor of the bill who has advocated for D.C. voting rights for more than three years, called the motion a “ploy” and a”poison pill.”

“Everybody was playing their best hand in there,” said Mr. Davis, Virginia Republican.

The debate then ended amid more confusion when Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, California Democrat, who was acting as speaker, took advantage of another procedural rule before a vote was taken on the motion and postponed all proceedings related to the bill.

The postponement was made over loud objections by Republicans, who questioned Mrs. Tauscher’s interpretation of House rules.

“The Democratic leadership shamefully exploited a rule to kill debate and postpone the vote indefinitely,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “House Republicans remain fully prepared to debate and vote on any proposal affecting the citizens of the District of Columbia.”

Democrats were then seen huddling near Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, and advocates said they will be meeting with House leaders to discuss when the measure will return to the floor and what strategy to adopt regarding the Republican motion.

Mr. Hoyer said the delay on the bill was only “temporary” and that Democrats are committed to addressing the issue as soon as possible.

Norton spokeswoman Doxie McCoy said lawmakers intend to bring a “clean bill” back that will be about D.C. voting rights alone.

Said Mrs. Norton: “We have a quick fix. Republicans have a sure defeat.”

The voting rights bill would grant the predominately Democratic District a seat in the House. In a bipartisan compromise, it also would create an additional at-large seat in the House for Utah, a state that leans Republican.

The bill has received a surge of recent opposition from Republicans, who have questioned the constitutionality of granting the District, which is not a state, the right to vote in Congress. On Tuesday, the White House said President Bush would be advised to veto the bill if it passed the House and Senate to reach his desk.

After the postponement, voting rights advocates suggested the White House is urging members of Congress to oppose the bill so that the president can avoid being faced with the veto.

“We may have stalled, but we have not ended our fight here,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of the advocacy group D.C. Vote. “I think some folks at the White House and elsewhere have decided to pull out all the stops.”

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, said he has requested a meeting with the president and insisted the delay did not kill the voting rights measure.

“What is obvious is this is a bill that was going full speed ahead toward passage,” Mr. Fenty said. “I think [the Republicans’ maneuver] is going to backfire.”

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