The House yesterday approved congressional voting rights for the District of Columbia, granting the D.C. delegate a vote for the first time in the nation’s history and adding a seat in Utah to increase the size of the chamber to 437 members.
In a 241-177 vote, the House approved a bill that Democrats call a long-awaited victory for 600,000 District residents and many Republicans derided as “trampling on the Constitution.”
Democrats voted for the measure by a 219-6 margin, and Republicans opposed it 171-22. The White House has threatened to veto the measure, which also must still face consideration in the Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress was about to finally “do right by the citizens of the District of Columbia” and said “we will not rest” until the District has full voting rights.
“America is at its best — and honors the cause of justice and freedom — when all voices are fully represented,” the California Democrat said. “And we know that the citizens of the District of Columbia will give their voices to a vision of justice, equality and opportunity for all. They already have the voice, now they will have the vote.”
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, lamented the “taxation without representation” status of the District, saying Congress has a moral obligation to give fair representation to the District’s taxpaying residents, especially those who serve in the military and work in government jobs.
“As a Republican I am not willing to bear the shame for failing to finally resolve this matter,” he said, imploring his colleagues to “see through the fog … [and] do the right thing.”
But most Republicans and the Bush administration argue the bill is unconstitutional because the Constitution says that Congress members must be elected “by the people of the several states.”
“The District of Columbia is a federal city and not a state,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, North Carolina Republican. “The new Democratic majority is trying to pad their numbers on the floor.”
Mr. McHenry and others say a fairer plan would give portions of the largely Democratic District back to neighboring Maryland.
“If the citizens of D.C. want voting representation, a constitutional amendment is essential,” said Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican.
Mr. Davis, a leading proponent of the bill, said he is convinced it is constitutional because Congress has the authority within the Constitution to grant D.C. a vote.
“But even if we are wrong, there is nobility in attempting to do the right thing,” he said.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative, echoed this argument, and railed against Republicans who tried to interrupt her for questions during a speech on the House floor.
“I will not yield. The people of the District of Columbia have spent 206 years yielding. You have had your say. Shame on you,” she shouted, prompting the acting speaker to admonish her for violating the rules that comments not be directed at individual members. Mrs. Norton was just elected to a ninth term and can vote in committee but not in the full House.
After the vote, Mrs. Norton said making the bill a law would “erase the slander that the founders of our country who staged their revolution for representation would then deny it to the residents of their own capital city.”
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty cheered the House vote and urged the Senate to “take up this important legislation immediately.” He later declared it is a “joyous time.”
Ilir Zherka, executive director of advocacy group D.C. Vote, said this week’s 5,000-person march for voting rights helped convince Congress.
“We have had an uphill battle, and D.C.’s struggle with Congress has often felt like David versus Goliath,” he said. “Today we celebrate a hard-fought victory and roll up our sleeves for the Senate. We will have a battle in the Senate, but we have democracy on our side.”
Under the bill, Republican-leaning and fast-growing Utah will add an at-large representative until the 2010 census and the next round of reapportionment.
The House also voted 216-203 to pass a partner bill to raise enough money to pay for the cost of elections in the District and Utah and to pay the salaries of the new House members and their staffs.
The two measures were merged after each passed and sent to the Senate, which will consider the bill sometime this spring.
An aide for Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent who runs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the senator supports the bill and will bring it up in the next few months. Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada supports the bill and “will work to move it forward in the Senate,” spokesman Jim Manley said.
However, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky opposes the measure as unconstitutional.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, was the first presidential candidate to applaud the decision, calling it “long overdue.” She added that taxation without representation in Washington is an “injustice [that] tarnishes our democracy as a whole.”
When her husband was president and Republicans controlled Congress, efforts to give the District a House vote languished.
Last year, Mr. Davis pushed the Utah compromise to advance the District bill.
Congress approved a constitutional amendment in 1978 giving the District a vote in the House, but the amendment died after failing to get ratification by three-fourths of the states. In 1993 the House rejected a proposal to put the district on the road to statehood.
Tom Ramstack and Gary Emerling contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service reports.