D.C. voting rights bill gains Senate traction

A bill that would give the District of Columbia a voting member of the House and add a seat for Utah is likely to gain enough support to pass through a Senate committee next month.

The legislation has garnered support from two GOP cosponsors, Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchA health insurer takes on his own industry: Describe clearly what we favor, not attack what we oppose A health insurer takes on his own industry: Describe clearly what we favor, not attack what we oppose Trump to award Medal of Freedom to economist Arthur Laffer MORE and Bob Bennett of Utah, who do not sit on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee but remain important to the bill’s passage.

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Its fate in the upper chamber, however, remains uncertain. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Senators reach .5B deal on Trump's emergency border request Senators reach .5B deal on Trump's emergency border request MORE (R-Ky.) hinted that there might be a filibuster of the legislation. And it is ambiguous whether the bill’s enthusiasts can gain 60 votes for passage on a cloture vote.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and also a cosponsor, held a hearing on the bill yesterday in anticipation of the committee vote next month. Sens. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (D-Ark.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillConservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Lobbying world MORE (D-Mo.) and Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCongress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ Lobbying world MORE (D-La.) voiced their support for the legislation.

Before making a final decision, Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) told The Hill that he would peruse testimony from the hearing to determine whether he believes that the bill is constitutional.

A spokesman for Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) indicated that he would support the legislation.

The House passed a similar bill, 241-177, in April, but the Senate bill differs from the House version in several respects. The Senate bill would remove an at-large seat for Utah and require that the state redistrict in 2008, rather than in the 2010 census, as the House-passed bill stipulates. It also eliminates the House’s pay-as-you-go budgetary language and the D.C. delegate position.

A markup is likely to be held after the Memorial Day recess, a Democratic committee aide said. With support from Landrieu, McCaskill, Pryor and Obama, the committee has a “good base to start from,” the aide added.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Senators revive effort to create McCain human rights commission MORE (Maine), a GOP moderate and ranking member of the Homeland Security panel, said she supports the fundamental goal of the legislation. But she would not say whether she backed using the Constitution’s District clause as a means to reach that goal.

“I support enthusiastically reaching [the] goal” of this bill, Collins told the committee. “If Congress can constitutionally pass legislation to grant the District a fully empowered member of the House of Representatives, I would support that measure.”

McCaskill said that voting rights for Washington should be a “basic of our democracy. I’m ashamed of our country that we haven’t fixed this.”

Jack Kemp, a former Republican House member from New York and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, testified yesterday in favor of the bill.

“We have a chance to do right and wrong. I think that it has got to be done,” Kemp said. He added that to deny residents a right to vote is “shameful” and “slanderous,” quoting from D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).

Although Kemp wouldn’t name names, he said that he believes “there’s a lot of people on the fence.”
Kemp said he and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), a sponsor of the House version, “want to get enough Republican votes to be veto-proof. I don’t see how Republicans with any sense can not [vote for] it.”
Davis recently told The Hill that the key would be to avoid a filibuster.

“I’m talking to Republicans,” Davis said. “[I’m] taking it one step at a time. I’m working it.”

Kemp also told the committee not to assume a presidential veto, even though the White House has indicated that President Bush could veto it.

“Advisers of the president of the United States are putting him in harm’s way for denying this vote,” Kemp said. “The president has got a lot on his plate. I don’t think he’s heard the arguments well enough.”

Although the bill’s fate is still up in the air, Lieberman was confident of the bill’s future.

“We have work to do, but we’re making the right progress. Let’s not assume that the president won’t sign this,” he said.

Along with Norton and Davis, other witnesses at the hearing included D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty; Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Counsel on Civil Rights; George Washington University Law School Professor Jonathan Turley; and Georgetown University Law School Professor Viet Dinh.

Ilan Wurman and Elana Schor contributed to this report.