WASHINGTON – The drive to give the more than half-million residents of the District of Columbia a vote in Congress failed in the Senate on Tuesday, falling three votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a threatened filibuster and begin debate.
But the bill garnered more Republican support than it has in 30 years of discussion on the issue, and its backers pledged to try again – if not in this session, then 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.”
The Senate vote was 57 to 42, with eight Republicans voting to allow the bill to be considered.
Citing constitutional concerns, President Bush has threatened to veto the legislation. The bill passed the House in April by a vote of 241 to 177, short of the two-thirds needed to override a veto.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., 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 the District of Columbia a state.
But because it failed to win support from two-thirds of the states, a proposed constitutional amendment to do just that failed in 1985. In the years since, proponents have tried to persuade Americans to embrace the idea of congressional representation for D.C. residents. Arguing that the federal government already recognizes the District of Columbia as a state in matters of commerce and taxes, they organized under a new umbrella effort, DC Vote ( www.dcvote.org), and began a grass-roots lobbying campaign.
This latest effort would have added a new House seat for largely Democratic D.C. and given largely Republican Utah another House seat, raising the voting membership in the House of Representatives to 437.