The long and arduous fight for increased autonomy for the District of Columbia received a setback this week when House Republicans denied D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton a vote in the Committee of the Whole.
The privilege, which allows Norton and the chamber’s five other non-voting delegates to vote on amendments and other legislative measures when the House is convened as a “committee of the whole House” on the House floor, was afforded them in the 103rd, 110th and 111th Congresses, when Democrats were in control.
As Republican majorities have done in the past, however, the GOP-controlled House, in 2011, stripped Norton and the other delegates of that right. And, the first act of the 113th Congress was to deny Norton’s motion to restore that vote.
“They are not members of Congress and they do not possess the same parliamentary rights afforded to members,” said Rules Chairman Pete Sessions(R-Texas) during debate on the rules package for the 113th Congress that excludes delegates from voting privileges, as quoted by Roll Call. “That is an issue that I believe is well understood.”
But, according to Norton, federal district and appeals courts have upheld the delegates’ right to vote as constitutional. And, she added, the decision to revoke that right seems to be based on politics.
“I refuse to believe that any vote in this country should be dependent on which party controls the majority,” Norton said in a statement. “Denying our more than 600,000 taxpaying D.C. residents the vote they won fair and square both disrespects our nation’s democracy and the American citizens who live in the nation’s capital.”
Despite the blow, the battle is not over: according to Norton, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Jan. 3 introduced legislation to restore the delegates’ vote.
And, in other positive news for the District, House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) announced that D.C.-related issues would be considered by the full committee instead of the usual subcommittee. The change means that the District’s affairs would be considered under the direct aegis of a chairman who has proven to be a champion of expanding the city’s home rule.
”I am delighted about this change,” Norton said in a statement. “The direct involvement of a chairman who wants to strengthen the city and its presence in the Congress cannot be overemphasized.”