D.C. Officials Protest Proposed House Rule
||New York Times (NY)
||Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Two District of Columbia officials — Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s delegate in Congress — were on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to protest proposed changes to House rules that would strip Ms. Norton and other delegates of their already-limited voting rights.
The House is expected to vote Wednesday on a package of rules that would, among other things, ban delegates from voting on amendments and procedures when the House convenes in a Committee of the Whole, a parliamentary tactic used to speed consideration of legislation. The action would affect delegates from the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands as well as the resident commissioner of Puerto Rico
Ms. Norton said the measure was an affront to residents of the nation’s capital, describing it as an “opening salvo” from Republicans.
“If we don’t stop this assault now, it will develop into a full-scale war on home rule for the District of Columbia,” she told a crowd of D.C. voting rights advocates gathered in the Rayburn House office building. She has said she plans to continue her protest on the House floor Wednesday.
Mr. Gray, who took office on Monday, called Republicans’ move an “absolute outrageous insult” and implored the city’s 600,000 residents to besiege Capitol Hill “to preserve what little democracy we have.”
Under current rules, delegates and the resident commissioner are allowed to vote on amendments and procedure in the Committee of the Whole and serve on committees. However, their votes cannot decide final passage of any measures.
The proposed rule changes are just the latest tussle in a decades-long battle to define the rights of territorial delegates.
If the House passes the new rules, it would not be the first time that Republicans have rescinded the right of delegates to vote in the Committee of the Whole. The vote was first granted to delegates in 1993 by House Democrats of the 103rd Congress. That October, Robert H. Michel, then the House Minority Leader, and 11 other members of the House, filed a lawsuit against the Clerk of the House and the delegates, arguing that the House rules were unconstitutional. The federal district court in Washington ruled against the Republicans and the decision was upheld the following year by a federal appeals court.
But in 1995, House Republicans, who controlled the chamber for the first time in more than 40 years, stripped the voting provision out of House rules. Democrats revived the privileges again in 2007, after regaining control of the House in the 2006 midterm elections. (The Northern Mariana Islands did not elect its first delegate until 2008.)