House GOP kills voting rights for D.C., Puerto Rico, other delegates

Along strict party lines, House lawmakers on Wednesday shot down legislation allowing delegates to retain certain voting powers.

The surprise vote — the first of the new Congress — surrounded a provision of the Republicans’ proposed rules package that would prevent the six House delegates from presiding over, or voting as part of, the Committee of the Whole — a mechanism used to expedite legislation by effectively turning the entire chamber into a committee. 

Under the rules of the last Congress, the six delegates — representing the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands — were allowed to cast votes and preside over the Committee of the Whole. The Republican rules proposal would strip that power.

Delegates may not vote when the House is in regular order.

The House rejected a resolution introduced by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) to delay a vote on the larger rules package until the delegate provision could be examined by a special committee. Norton says the delegate powers were upheld in a 1994 federal appeals court decision. 

“With this motion, we formally begin the protest that will be necessary to salvage what D.C. has won in the past,” Norton said in a statement. “We will need the help of the top elected District officials and District residents, because we are sure this is only the first attack on our rights.”

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) responded to Norton's resolution with a motion to table, or kill, the proposal.

The vote was a bad omen for bipartisan cooperation in the 112th Congress: Every Republican voted in favor of Cantor's motion, while every Democrat voted against it. The final tally was 225-188. 

The full House is expected to vote on the GOP rules package Wednesday evening.

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