WASHINGTON-Several weeks ago, D.C. politicians celebrated when the Senate passed legislation granting the District of Columbia a voting representative in the House. The Senate stonewalled the legislation two years ago, so when it passed in that chamber this time, Washingtonians thought the bill would sail through the House, granting them a vote in that body beginning in the next session.
"They haven't had a basic civil right," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said about the city's 600,000 residents when the Senate passed the bill.
Senators talked about the voting rights in the past tense, like they were already law. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty came to the Senate for the vote, and afterward publicly thanked the Obama administration.
"There can be no turning back now," said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Unless lawmakers in the House end up turning back.
House leaders had hoped to pass the bill by the end of the week, giving it the force of law, but a tacked-on measure stymied the legislation. Not only does the bill grant voting rights to the district, but it also loosens gun restrictions for the city, which both the Council of the District of Columbia and many Democrats oppose on the grounds of safety in the city. But a number of Democrats in the House are pro-gun rights and would shy away from a public fight with the National Rifle Association, which has lobbied for the measure. Sen. Reid voted for the gun amendment; in his most recent campaign the NRA backed him.
The tack-on would ease restrictions on semiautomatic weapons and gun registration requirements. The House is looking for some kind of compromise solution, but removing the provision would trigger the gun lobby, putting many Democrats in exactly the position they're trying to avoid.
D.C. residents have expressed frustration at being pawns in a political game-that they pay federal taxes and serve in the military but have spent two centuries waiting for Congress to give them voting representation, a vote that is now contingent on a gun measure.
Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher vented on congressional politicians who consider the city "their plaything."
"They control the budget. They sign off on the laws," he wrote Thursday. "If they want to send the mayor back to the family shoe store, they could do so tomorrow. On this plantation, that's how it will always be."
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., inserted the gun provision in the bill; he also tried to add an amendment to the spending bill that just passed, preserving the city's voucher program-that amendment failed. Politico dubbed him "D.C. Mayor Ensign."
Ensign wrote an op-ed in the Post Friday defending his actions: "Democratic leaders in the House know that a strong majority in their own chamber, a majority composed of Republicans and pro-gun, moderate Democrats, reflects the overwhelming sentiment in our nation that unreasonable gun control measures are ineffective at combating crime and infringe on residents' rights."
The Supreme Court took a role in D.C. law last year, too, overturning the city's ban on guns.