This vote was on whether to begin debating a controversial bill that would give the District of Columbia voting rights in the House, and Utah an extra seat in the House.
Washington, D.C. currently has a “delegate” in the House, but she does not have full voting privileges – for instance, she can vote in committees, but not on the House floor. There is no D.C. senator. This is because D.C. is a district, not a state, and the Constitution only grants full representation in the U.S. Congress to states. The District of Columbia and other U.S. territories such as Guam, Samoa and Puerto Rico have delegates to the House who do not have full voting privileges.
The city of Washington, D.C. – whose license plates read “no taxation without representation” – has long sought full voting rights in Congress. But this has been a contentious and partisan topic, because giving voting rights to D.C. would, in essence, be giving Democrats an extra seat in the House. This is because the District’s majority black population votes overwhelmingly Democratic, effectively giving the Democrats a safe seat. As an olive branch to the GOP, the bill would also expand Utah’s number of members in the House with a safe Republican seat.
Because the measure is so contentious, Republicans had held up allowing the bill to be brought to the floor for debate. Typically bills are brought to the floor through a procedural motion called a “motion to proceed,” which is usually approved by voice vote as a routine matter. However, if a senator wants to hold up consideration, all he has to do is remove his consent – which was the case with this bill. Republicans had threatened to hold up its consideration indefinitely with a filibuster, causing Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., to file what is known as a “cloture motion,” which, in essence, is a vote on bringing debate on a bill or amendment to a close.
If the Senate votes to “invoke cloture” – or bring debate to a close – then lawmakers must either hold a vote on the legislation, amendment or motion in question, or move on to other business. This type of motion is most often called on contentious legislation where the leadership is concerned that consideration could be held up indefinitely by a handful of politicians.
Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said D.C. residents don't need a full voting member of the House because Congress already takes care of their needs without one.
"The bottom line is this: The District of Columbia residents do not suffer from a lack of representation in terms of the general welfare of the District. The Congress has been enormously generous and has ceded jurisdiction to the city of the District of Columbia and provided funding and other legislation to govern the District," Kyl said. "Secondly, the Constitution of the United States could not be clearer about the fact that representation is limited to the States of the Union."
Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he rejects the notion that granting D.C. full voting rights would be unconstitutional.
"Maintaining the District as a jurisdiction separate from State control in no way requires disenfranchising its residents. America’s Founders wanted the Capital to be free from State control, and I support keeping it that way. I oppose statehood for the District of Columbia, and I think most people in this body do, but giving the District a House seat so that its residents can participate in the process of making the laws they must obey in no way changes either the District’s political status or Congress’s legislative authority over the District," Hatch said.
By a vote of 62-34, the Senate agreed to the motion. All but two Democrats present voted for the motion. All but eight Republicans present voted against the motion. The end result is that the Senate proceeded to open debate on a bill that would grant DC voting rights in the House and an extra House seat to Utah.