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White House Threatens Veto On D.C. Vote

U.S. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) speaks during a hearing about voting rights in the District of Columbia before the Constitution Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee September 14, 2006 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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The White House on Tuesday threatened to veto legislation giving the District of Columbia a vote in the House, possibly prolonging a two-century-long wait for representation in Congress.

The bill, the White House said in a statement, violates constitutional language saying the House should be made up of representatives chosen by the people of the states. "The District of Columbia is not a state," it said, and if the legislation reaches President Bush's desk, "his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill."

The House is to vote Friday on the legislation that would give a vote to the D.C. delegate while creating, until the 2010 census, a new at-large seat for Utah.

That would increase House membership to 437, with the seat from overwhelmingly Democratic D.C. offset by the extra vote from Utah, a predominantly Republican state. Utah narrowly missed obtaining a fourth House seat after the 2000 census.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who worked out that compromise with D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, said he hoped Bush would override the advice of his aides and approve the legislation if it reaches his desk.

"I hope the president's legacy isn't vetoing democracy in the District of Columbia" while the United States is spending huge sums to promote democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said.

Davis, who said there are equally compelling arguments that the D.C. a vote is constitutional, said he expected it to pass the House. "Members will vote their conscience on this."

"The fight has just begun," added Norton.

It would still have to pass the Senate before going to the president, and the constitutional question is also likely to be an issue there.

The White House cited Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, which says the House "shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states." It said the Constitution also contains 11 other provisions expressly linking congressional representation to statehood.

Others look at language in Article I, Section 8, which empowers Congress to "exercise exclusive legislation" over the federal capital, in arguing that Congress can, if it chooses, give D.C. voting rights.

"The difference between the House and the Senate is clear," Davis said. "The Senate represents states, the House represents people."

The White House said only a constitutional amendment could give D.C. a vote. Congress in 1978 approved a constitutional amendment extending voting rights to the District, but it died when it was not ratified by three-fourths of the states.

Norton, a Democrat, has full voting rights at the committee level, and, like delegates from territories such as Guam and American Samoa, can vote on amendments on the House floor as long as the votes do not change the outcome.