Bid to give D.C. voters a representative in Congress sputters

Gun amendment prompts backers to halt effort

By Jim Abrams
Associated Press / April 21, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The people of the nation’s capital have waited more than two centuries to get a vote in Congress. It looks as if Washington’s roughly 600,000 residents will have to wait longer.

House majority leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said yesterday that lawmakers will not take up legislation this week giving District of Columbia citizens a vote in the House of Representatives, adding that he was “profoundly disappointed.’’

The Democrat also said it was unlikely the enfranchisement bill, which became embroiled in a gun rights dispute and other issues, would be considered in the House later this year.

With Democrats, the main supporters of the legislation, expected to lose seats in the November election, the possibilities for resurrecting the measure next year are uncertain.

The bill would have increased full House membership from 435 to 437, giving district residents a vote while adding a temporary at-large seat for Republican-leaning Utah, which narrowly missed getting an extra seat after the 2000 census.

The House passed the bill in 2007 and the Senate approved it last year. But the Senate bill came with an amendment that would have forced the district to effectively eliminate its tough gun control laws.

House members, including the district’s nonvoting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, have been trying for the past year to find a formula that would allow a vote while satisfying the powerful gun rights lobby in Congress. No resolution was reached.

Norton said she and Democratic leaders in the House were “shocked and blindsided’’ during the weekend to receive what she said was a National Rifle Association-drafted gun bill to accompany the voting act.

She said the proposal was even stronger than the gun provision passed in the Senate, barring the district from prohibiting or interfering with the carrying of firearms, either concealed or openly, in public. She said it would also have made it easy for people to carry firearms without permits and would stop the district from prohibiting guns in city-controlled buildings.

“The new sections will surely bring down the support we have had of antigun Democratic senators,’’ she said.

The gun measure was needed “because the District of Columbia decided to ignore the ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States,’’ NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said, referring to a 2008 ruling that stated the district’s 32-year-old ban on handgun possession was unconstitutional.