Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Senate kills push to give D.C. a voice in Congress

The drive to give the 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia a vote in Congress failed in the Senate today, falling three votes short of the 60 needed to begin debate.

But backers of the bill, which included a representative for largely Democratic D.C. and a new one for largely Republican Utah, pledged to try again, if not in this session than in a new Congress where Democratic gains could spell the difference.

"I feel strongly about D.C. voting rights," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Noting that there are "a lot of other things crying for attention" in the Senate, he said he chose to bring the issue to the floor because D.C. residents were fighting and dying in Iraq without a voice in Congress.

"This is fairness," Reid said. "It's the right thing to do."

Although the bill passed the House, President Bush had threatened to veto it.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) strongly opposed the measure, calling it "clearly and unambiguously unconstitutional" and saying the remedy for disenfranchisement of the district's residents is to amend the Constitution to make D.C. a state.

But a constitutional amendment to make the District of Columbia the 51st state failed in 1985 because it did not receive the approval of at least 38 states. In the years since, supporters have tried a series of initiatives to convince Americans to embrace the idea of representation for D.C. residents.

This latest effort attracted a wide array of political support. Co-sponsored in the House by Rep. Tom Davis, a prominent Republican, the bill drew a bipartisan lobbying push from former Republican Rep. Jack Kemp and the new and popular D.C. mayor, Adrian M. Fenty, who was allowed on the floor to buttonhole senators.

"Not since segregation has the Senate blocked a voting rights bill, and this is a voting rights bill," Fenty told a rally the day before the Senate vote.