Senate lawmakers yesterday refused to advance a bill granting the District congressional voting rights, crippling the city’s chances of gaining a long-sought vote in the House of Representatives.
“Today, the residents of the District of Columbia did not get what we deserve,” D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said. Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, pledged to continue working toward congressional representation for city residents.
Senators voted 57-42 in favor of a procedural measure that required 60 votes to move the bill forward.
Forty-seven Democrats voted in favor of the measure, along with eight Republicans and two independents. But supporters said they lost three possible Republican votes from Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Gordon H. Smith of Oregon and John McCain of Arizona, as well as a Democratic vote from Sen. Max Baucus of Montana.
Mr. Baucus was the only Democrat to oppose the measure. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who co-sponsored the version of the bill that passed the House in April, said Mr. Baucus likely would have voted in favor of the measure if his vote would have been a deciding factor.
“This was a virtual party-line vote,” said Mrs. Norton, a Democrat. “The kind of pressure that was brought on them not to vote with us was most extraordinary.”
The District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act was crafted as a political compromise and would grant the predominantly Democratic District a seat in the House, while also adding an additional House seat for Utah, which is largely Republican.
The bill was championed by Democrats in the House and Senate as a long-overdue effort to enfranchise the District’s roughly 600,000 residents.
But Republicans — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and the Bush administration — have argued the bill is unconstitutional because the Constitution says that Congress members must be elected “by the people of the several states.”
“I opposed this bill because it is clearly and unambiguously unconstitutional,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement after yesterday’s vote. “If the residents of the District are to get a member for themselves, there remains a remedy: amend the Constitution.”
Some lawmakers also expressed concern that the bill could lead to the District having representation in the Senate. The White House threatened to veto the measure if it made it to President Bush’s desk.
Both Mr. Fenty and Mrs. Norton appeared on the Senate floor during the vote in hopes of winning support.
Mr. Fenty shook hands with various senators and received a hug from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, while Mrs. Norton got a kiss on the cheek from Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat.
The vote’s outcome ended a surge in momentum that saw the Senate consider D.C. voting rights for the first time in 30 years, and supporters of the bill said they were extremely disappointed.
“Once you see the light at the end of the tunnel, you want to make it all the way through,” said D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, a Democrat who attended the vote along with a majority of council members. “And we obviously didn’t.”
At a press conference after the vote, Mrs. Norton said she intends to “regroup” with House and Senate supporters of the bill and would not rule out an attempt to bring the measure back to the Senate this congressional session.
“We lost a battle; we haven’t lost the war,” Mrs. Norton said in front of a crowd that included Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican; House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, and city leaders. “We are going to get D.C. its vote this session of Congress.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, also said that the voting rights issue could come back before the Senate. Mr. Reid had hoped to bring the bill to a full vote before the Senate adjourns next month for the Columbus Day recess.
“If there were ever a sense of fairness, it would be to let the delegate from the District of Columbia have an actual vote,” Mr. Reid said. “If they beat us this time, that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t take it up again this Congress.”
Past measures that would have given the District a vote made it to the House floor twice, and yesterday was the first time in 30 years that the Senate considered such a measure.
In 1978, a constitutional amendment that would have given the District representation in the House and the Senate was passed by Congress but failed to be ratified by the required number of states.
In 1993, a measure granting the District statehood was easily defeated in the House by a 277-153 vote.