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D.C. vote bill dies in U.S. Senate

Sen. Joseph Lieberman at a press conference. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), above right, expresses his disappointment that a bill to give the District a voting representative stalled in the Senate.
Ben Solomon
senior photo editor

A bill to give the District a voting representative in Congress stalled in the Senate Tuesday afternoon, likely ending its chances of being passed before the end of the year.

Although Senate leaders pledged to push the bill through the Senate this week, it failed to garner the votes necessary to end debate. Only 57 out of a required 60 senators voted to bring the bill to a vote – a procedural vote known as cloture. The House of Representatives passed the legislation last April, making this the furthest a D.C. voting bill had traveled through Congress in decades.

The District currently elects one non-voting member to the House, a seat held by Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. The D.C. Voting Rights Act is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.).

In order to attract bipartisan support, the failed proposal also gave Utah – a predominantly Republican state – another representative.

Immediately after the vote, supporters of the bill gathered outside of the Senate floor to express their disappointment.

“I can’t conceal the way I feel about this matter,” Lieberman said. “I feel deeply dismayed and outraged at the U.S. Senate.”

Despite the bill’s bipartisan approach, the final vote was relatively split down party lines – with Republicans overwhelmingly opposing passage.

They were led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has continually expressed his opposition to the bill because he says it violates the Constitution. Only eight Republicans voted for the bill.

“You’ve got to appreciate what happened in that caucus: the phone calls that were made to put the pressure on and make this a party line vote,” Norton said.

“The fat lady has not sung yet,” Norton said. “We lost a battle; we haven’t lost the war.”

She added she intends to attain voting representation for the District before the end of this session of Congress.

Kevin Kiger, communications director at D.C. Vote – a nonprofit organization that lobbies for District representation in Congress – said he was upset by the partisan politics in the Senate.

“We’re very disappointed that a minority of representatives overcame the wishes of the majority who wanted to move forward and expand democracy,” Kiger said.

Josh Bumpus, a GW senior and intern at D.C. Vote, remained optimistic.

“We’re disappointed over today’s vote, of course,” Bumpus said. “But on the flip side, this is the farthest we’ve ever gotten.”

Many proponents of the bill see D.C.’s right to a vote as a civil rights issue, especially because of the predominantly African-American constituency. During a rally for the legislation in front of a Senate office building Monday, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp quoted Abraham Lincoln and reminded his fellow Republicans of their party’s support of civil rights in the past.

“Vote on your conscience and get on the right side of history,” Kemp said.

At the same rally, civil rights activist Raoul Cunningham, president of Kentucky’s chapter of the NAACP, reminded the crowd that D.C. residents fight in wars and pay taxes like other American citizens.

Maggie Duncan, a GW alumnus who still resides in the District, also attended the rally in support of the bill.

“I always knew that D.C. didn’t have a vote but it wasn’t until I became a tax-paying resident that I realized the scope and impact of this issue,” Duncan said.

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