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D.C. Moves Step Closer To Voting Rights


Washington, D.C., is a big step closer to winning full voting rights in the House of Representatives. A proposal to give D.C. a seat in the House cleared a procedural hurdle in the Senate today. It avoided a filibuster, with two votes to spare.

The prospects now look good for passage in a signing ceremony by President Obama, who, unlike his predecessor, backs D.C. voting rights. NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA: There may be no stronger advocate in the U.S. Senate for Washington, D.C., residents having full voting rights in Congress than Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman, who lives in the city.

JOE LIEBERMAN: The fact that they still don't have voting representation here should be embarrassing to a nation whose founders rallied around the revolutionary slogan: Taxation without representation is tyranny.

WELNA: The bill Lieberman's sponsoring gives Washington, D.C. - a city of 600,000 that's heavily Democratic - one seat in the House beginning in the next Congress. Its appeal is broadened by also giving a fourth House seat to fast- growing and Republican-leaning Utah. One of that state's GOP senators, Orrin Hatch, is the bill's co-sponsor.

ORRIN HATCH: Representation and suffrage are the heart of our American system of self-government. This principle is so fundamental that there must be affirmative evidence that America's founders intended to deny it to Americans living in the District. That evidence simply does not exist.

WELNA: Only one senator rose on the Senate floor today to argue against giving the District of Columbia a representative in Congress. It was the chamber's number two Republican, John Kyl.

JOHN KYL: The Constitution of the United States could not be clearer about the fact that representation is limited to the states of the union. The District of Columbia, being a federal enclave, not being a state, therefore is not entitled to congressional representation.

WELNA: That constitutional argument was enough to persuade Utah's other Republican senator, Robert Bennett. He voted to hold up the D.C. voting rights bill today, after having voted to let it move forward two years ago.

ROBERT BENNETT: The more I wrestled with the constitutional issues, the more I found it difficult to get them resolved.

WELNA: But eight Republicans sided with their Democratic colleagues, all but two of whom voted to let the D.C. voting rights bill come up for consideration. One such Republican was Alaska's Lisa Murkowski. She said she ultimately planned to vote against the bill, but she wanted first to have a good debate.

LISA MURKOWSKI: I'd like to see a constitutional amendment - just as was passed by the House and the Senate back in the '70s and, unfortunately, only ratified by 16 states.

WELNA: Many Republicans fear giving Washington, D.C., a seat in the House can only lead to demands that it be given two seats in the Senate, as well. They intend to offer amendments that could diminish support for the bill. Still, the mayor of Washington, Adrian Fenty, hailed today's Senate vote as a breakthrough in a struggle that's gone on for decades.

ADRIAN FENTY: Today is an amazing step forward. I think it propels us on the road towards getting a vote in the House of Representatives, and again, I think it capitalizes on what is great momentum, electricity and energy in this city right now about maintaining and claiming our full franchise.

WELNA: The lead sponsor of the legislation, Senator Lieberman, was a bit more cautious.

LIEBERMAN: If there ever was a case where it ain't over until it's over, this is it.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, The Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.