The District’s decades-long quest for a voting member in the U.S. House of Representatives got longer Tuesday.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said the bill was on hold indefinitely, conceding that Democratic Party leaders are stymied by an amendment to the measure that would scale back the city’s tough anti-gun laws.
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to move the bill at this time,” the Maryland Democrat told reporters on Capitol Hill.
House Democratic leaders are torn between championing D.C. voting rights and fighting a rollback of gun laws backed by the National Rifle Association, which enjoys widespread support from Republicans and conservative Blue Dog Democrats.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting House member, said she agreed with the decision but vowed to continue the fight.
“We will never give up on equal rights for our residents,” she said, insisting that pro-gun Democrats could have opposed the amendment without sustaining political damage.
The amendment by Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, would have overturned the city’s gun laws, which essentially ban ownership of handguns and are among the toughest gun control measures in the country.
D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray said the Ensign amendment was “onerous and dangerous” and not an acceptable trade-off for a voting member in the House.
“We remain hopeful that the right set of circumstances will lead to another opportunity for democracy finally to come to our city,” said Mr. Gray, at-large Democrat.
Critics say giving D.C. residents a voting representative violates Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, which states that “representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states.” The District is not a state.
The bill would have provided the solidly Democratic District a House seat and balanced it with an additional seat likely to go to Utah, which is heavily Republican. The Utah seat was included to gain Republican support. The D.C. and Utah representatives would be seated at the start of the next session in January 2011.
The legislation sailed out of the Senate in a bipartisan 61-37 vote in February. At the time, Democrats were excited to see the bill survive in any form.
Supporters say Congress has the power to give the District a representative because of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which states that Congress must “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District.
Efforts to give the District’s roughly 600,000 residents a voting representative in the House have been rebuffed repeatedly.
A D.C. voting rights bill cleared the House in 2007 but was defeated in the Senate. Republicans successfully stalled the measure for a month by trying to add language to repeal much of the District’s gun ban, which has since been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.