Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has killed the D.C. House Voting Rights Act.
The decision to hold off on current legislation due to the threat of gun-related amendments follows a conference call on Sunday with various advocates and local politicos. A compromise gun legislation proposed by the office of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was reviewed.
The consensus was not to move forward with the compromise. “Please understand that we are holding the bill for now, not giving up on voting rights,” Norton wrote.
[UPDATES BELOW, with statements from Ilir Zherka of D.C. Vote, Council Chairman Vincent Gray, and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty]
Here is the full statement she sent this morning to various legislators, staff, and advocates involved in the voting rights push:
TO: Sen. Lieberman
From: Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton
As you are aware, I have been working to remove the Ensign gun amendment from the DC voting rights bill with leaders in the House and Senate, the Administration, and my colleagues. Majority Leader Hoyer has been trying unsuccessfully to get the votes for a clean bill before the thick of the upcoming appropriations period and heavy legislation headed for the floor. The Majority Leader and I met on Friday afternoon to discuss our bill, a draft of a compromise gun amendment from his office, and other options for moving the voting rights bill to the House floor now.
We sent a memo summarizing the content of the meeting with the Majority Leader and of the compromise amendment and shared the memo before a conference call on Sunday with the bill’s major advocates whom we could reach, including the DC vote coalition. The conference call discussed in detail all of the options available to us at this time, none of which would result in the elimination of the Ensign amendment, as well as the split in opinion in the city about attaching a bill that carries a danger to public safety and elimination of the city’s authority over gun legislation. All agreed that there were good reasons to wait for now. Please understand that we are holding the bill for now, not giving up on voting rights. I would be happy to discuss details with you personally.
On Monday evening, I discussed this matter with the Majority Leader. Majority Leader Hoyer indicated he will say at his regular Tuesday press conference that there is not a consensus to move forward with the bill at this time. Concerning the future of the bill, he will make clear that the bill continues to be important because the 600,000 American citizens in the District deserve the vote.
Hoyer indeed made such remarks today.
UPDATE, 1:55 P.M.: A statement from D.C. Vote:
“The fight is far from over,” said Ilir Zherka, DC Vote Executive Director. “We will do everything in our power to pass the DC Voting Rights Act in this Congress. But, it’s obvious that we’ll also need to take our battle on guns to the next level. Unfortunately we know that the NRA will continue to find a vehicle for the Ensign amendment and we will fight this at every step.”…”We are so grateful for Majority Leader Hoyer’s commitment to this issue,” Zherka added. “We are confident that with the continued support of the House Leadership, that the DC Voting Rights Act will pass in the 111th Congress.”
Zherka adds in an interview with LL that the enduring question was, “were pro-gun Democrats willing to support the DCVRA without the Ensign amendment.” The answer, apparently, was no, and Zherka and allies found themselves unwilling to swallow the poison pill, which he deems “outrageous and a infringement on D.C.’s local democracy.”
Zherka declined to discuss the Sunday conference call, though he denies ever reviewing any gun compromise from Hoyer’s office.
As far as a timeline for further movement, Zherka says, “I’m not that concerned about projecting a timeline. We’re going to get it through if we can….I don’t know if it’s going to be the fall, the winter, next year. We’ve never been too preoccupied with a official deadline.”
UPDATE, 3:50 P.M.: D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, in an interview, reports he spoke with Norton and Hoyer over the weekend, where he reiterated his opposition to accepting any gun amendment. “I hate to be glib,” he says, “but it was as if we had to give up democracy to get democracy.”
Particularly troubling, Gray notes, is the prospect of accepting gun language then having the voting-rights provision struck down under a constitutional challenge.
Disappointment, however, is the word for Gray, given the rapid turn of events since the measure passed the Senate in February. “I think if you had said six months ago we’d be having anything besides a celebration today,” he said, “I wouldn’t have believed you.”
UPDATE, 3:55 P.M.: Here’s a statement from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty: “On behalf of the residents of the District of Columbia, I applaud the leadership and great effort put forth by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, District Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton and other Congressional leaders for their work to secure full voting representation for District residents. Going forward, I remain committed to working with our Congressional leaders, as well as members of the Council of the District of Columbia, to secure full voting representation as fast as humanly possible.”