D.C. Voting Rights
It's time for the Senate to debate the bill on the floor.

Published September 17th 2007 in The Washington Post
SUPPORTERS OF D.C. voting rights have to get 60 votes to advance the bill to the Senate floor for debate and a vote. This cloture motion is technical, but how the senators vote is entirely about principle. It is simply not right that U.S. citizens who live in the nation's capital are denied basic representation in their government. That a procedural gambit would be used to prevent a redressing of this wrong is inexcusable.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has scheduled a vote on the motion to proceed for tomorrow afternoon. Sixty votes would mean that the measure is on track for debate and a vote on the floor. Failure to get the votes would probably doom the bill this year and would be a major setback to bringing democracy to the District. Even if supporters are successful, the measure faces further hurdles in debilitating amendments and delays, not to mention a veto threat from the White House. The bill would increase the size of the House from 435 members to 437, giving a voting representative to the District and another to the state next in line to pick up a seat, currently Utah.

The vote is likely to be close, and support is needed from Republican senators. Almost all the Senate's 51 Democrats and independents are said to back the bill, as do at least five Republicans. It helps that the measure is politically neutral, offsetting the mostly Democratic District with Republican-leaning Utah. That the bill was fathered by a Republican member of Congress from Virginia -- Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who is horrified by the 200-year injustice of D.C. disenfranchisement -- further burnishes its credentials. Other Republicans of like mind include Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) and former congressman Jack Kemp. Particularly powerful are the testimonials from leading African American Republicans, such as former senator Edward W. Brooke, who cite their party's great legacy in breaking down racial barriers. The last time a voting rights bill affecting African Americans was filibustered, it was the Democrats who were on the wrong side of history.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made no secret of his strong opposition or of his willingness to use any tactic to stop the measure. Those who would follow Mr. McConnell's lead and vote no on cloture should think long and hard about blocking a historic civil rights moment. They should think about what message they are sending to a city with an African American majority or to the nation. Senators who oppose this bill should be willing to stand up and have a debate on its merits on the Senate floor. Moreover, they should make sure that any vote about bringing justice to half a million people is not a matter of political party but of conscience.