One of the first orders of business for the Republican-controlled House was to strip D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of her limited voice on the floor of the House.
Shortly after the chamber convened Jan. 5, Republican leaders of the 112th Congress withdrew Norton’s right to vote when the House is convened in what is known as the Committee of the Whole, when the chamber assumes the form of a massive committee to consider legislation or other issues.
The measure was part of an opening day rules package that stripped Norton, Dels. Donna Christiansen (D-Virgin Islands), Eni Faleomavaega (D–American Samoa), Madeleine Bordallo (D–Guam) and Gregorio C. Sablan (D-Northern Marianas) and Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico) of the partial vote granted them in 1993 when Democrats ruled the chamber.
Norton and the other delegates to Congress were allowed to vote in committee but not allowed to take part in legislative floor votes. In 2009, Norton had championed a bill which would have given D.C. a voting representative in the House. The bill passed the Senate but failed to clear the House that year.
Norton countered with a measure that would delay stripping of the delegates’ vote until a House commission could study the issue, but the proposal was defeated in a 225-to-188 vote. The delegates still have the right to vote in committees in which they are members.
The action came after D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray at a Jan. 4 rally urged lawmakers “to preserve what little democracy we have.” Norton also attended the rally, which was organized by DC Vote, an advocacy group centered around acquiring a voting representative for the nation’s capital.
Gray added later that the decision to rescind Norton’s partial voting rights was “the most outrageous insult imaginable.” Shortly after the GOP’s vote, Norton said she told attendees at the rally not to go quietly into the night now that attacks on their rights had already begun.
“Yesterday was day one, showing that residents have no intention of slipping away without protest,” Norton said. “Today I continued on the House floor what our residents, our mayor and DC Vote began.”
Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, described the GOP’s action as a shameful start to the new year.
“It’s about political power and they are determined to deny political power, it seems, to D.C. residents,” Zherka told the AFRO. “Congressional Republican leaders have professed in the last few years to support representation for D.C. residents, but of course their method of achieving representation is often the kinds of things we are pursuing like amending the Constitution,” he added.
Zherka called the GOP’s action ironic, given both newly elected House Speaker John Boehner and his peers profess to support the Constitution, but have argued that the delegate vote is unconstitutional.
“When in fact, federal courts have held that the vote is constitutional,” said Zherka. He cautioned that the action to rescind Norton’s voting rights might only be the first effort by the GOP to roll back the gains D.C. residents have made over the past 10 years.