Last year, legislation giving Washington, DC voting rights in the House of Representatives stalled after city leaders objected to an amendment that would break down the city’s strict gun control laws. The bill had managed to pass both the House and the Senate, with the support of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), whose home state of Utah would also have received a fourth House member.
Congressional leaders now intend to resurrect the bill “as early as next week.” DC Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said that they are trying to “weaken the gun amendment language,” but insisted that she was “unwilling to sacrifice the opportunity to win a long-sought voting seat for the District by insisting on a stand-alone bill.” “This is the best chance we’ve had to get a House vote for D.C. in my lifetime,” Norton said. “Nobody would leave it on the table because it’s not at all clear when there will be another chance.”
Despite his past support, Hatch is now saying that he will oppose the legislation:
Hatch championed the D.C. voting bill as recently as last year when it passed the Senate, but not this go-around. He is upset that the new proposal would give Utah a temporary fourth seat on a statewide basis, instead of using a map of four districts previously drawn by Utah’s Legislature. [...]
He is so angry he vowed to filibuster the bill in the Senate, which would greatly reduce the chance of it passing.
Hatch’s argument is that an at-large seat for Utah would be unconstitutional, since each Utahn would be able to “vote for two House members — one in their existing district, plus one in the new at-large seat.” In the past, he and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) sponsored a DC voting rights bill in the Senate but made sure that Utah would be “free to redistrict into four equal districts.”
So why is the House insisting on a temporary at-large seat? ThinkProgress spoke to DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka, who said that while his organization is neutral on how the Utah seat is constituted, he believes that an at-large representative — which would be temporary until the Census results are done — is not only the most viable option right now, but is also favored by many members of the Utah delegation:
ZHERKA: The primary process in Utah is underway. I think most Utahns would agree that the only reasonable thing for Utah to do if it gets a seat in the next few months…and not disrupt the process that’s already underway is to make that seat at-large, and I think other people in Utah would prefer an at-large for the fourth seat. I feel comfortable in saying that’s true for the House delegation, so I’m disappointed that he’s taken that position. [...]
They [Members of the Utah delegation] prefer an at-large. They don’t want to run in new districts. They’re months away from an election. So a member of the House doesn’t want, just months before they’re going to run, a whole new set of constituents. And so that’s been an issue.
While the fourth Utah representative would be a Republican no matter how the seat is constituted, there are political considerations on each side. Last year, Democrats and civil rights leaders worried that with the redrawing of districts, “Utah might be tempted to draw districts in a way to eliminate the Utah delegation’s lone Democrat, Rep. Jim Matheson.” Although Hatch has opposed an at-large seat in the past, his new threat to veto the DC legislation may be an attempt to appeal to some of his far-right constituents who oppose DC voting rights.
Neither Norton nor Hatch returned our request for comment.