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N.R.A. Muscle Saves 538, Blocks D.C. Voting Rights

The Hill reports that a bill to give the District of Columbia a vote in the House of Represenatives, which would increase the number of Electoral Votes from 538 to 539, has stalled out in the House after and is unlikely to become law:

Hopes have evaporated for passing a bill giving the District of Columbia voting rights in the House, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday.

The district’s leaders can’t reach consensus on what to do about an amendment that would gut D.C.’s gun laws, according to Hoyer (D-Md.), the bill’s patron in leadership.

“There is not a consensus among leaders in D.C.,” Hoyer said. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to move the bill at this time.”

The bill has been stalled for months, but today represented Hoyer’s most dismal assessment since the Senate passed the bill with the gun amendment attached. Previously, Hoyer had said he was confident the bill could pass this year.

What’s a bit unusual is that this bill has already passed the Senate, which is presumably the more difficult chamber to get legislation through. In fact, it did so with a little bit of room to spare, getting 65 votes for cloture and 62 votes for the underlying bill, with several moderate Republicans defecting to vote with the Democrats. (Democrats Max Baucus and Robert Byrd, on the other hand, voted against both cloture and the bill text).

The complication is that the version of the bill the Senate approved was passed with an unrelated amendment, introduced by Senator Ensign of Nevada and accepted by a 62-36 majority, that would limit the District’s ability to set its own policy on gun control. The amendment is opposed by some Democrats in the House and has created more of a stir there, as it has a proportionately somewhat larger and more empowered contingent of progressive and minority Democrats.

So why can’t they simply remove the gun control provision and start over? The Hill explains:

The gun amendment is backed by the National Rifle Association and supported by conservative Democrats, particularly Blue Dogs from the South and the West. Together with Republicans, they form a strong majority in support of gun rights.


Democratic leaders have been flummoxed by the drive by the NRA and Republicans to add the gun provisions to the D.C. vote bill.

Lawmakers believe that the NRA would “score” any procedural motion that brought up a D.C. vote without the gun amendment. That means any member who voted for it couldn’t have a perfect voting record with the NRA.

But it has long been expected that if the D.C. vote came to the floor with the gun amendment, Republicans and liberal Democrats would both vote to defeat it. That’s because Republicans oppose giving the District a vote in the House, and liberals oppose NRA efforts to loosen gun restrictions.

Emphasis mine. Even if the gun control provision is completely removed, the NRA appears poised to treat a vote on the revised bill — a bill on whether the District of Columbia should have a vote in the U.S. House — as a gun control bill, and would score a yea vote on the bill as ruining the “perfect” voting record for the roughly 50 House Democrats who had NRA ratings of A or A+ as of the 110th Congress. Absent those 50 votes — and maybe another half-dozen or so from conservative freshman Democrats who have not yet been rated by the NRA — the Democrats would be stuck on about 200 votes out of the 218 needed for passage. Although the Democrats could expect a few Republican defections, particularly from among the six Republicans who represent Virginia or Maryland, the House Republicans are more organized than the Senate ones and presumably have other reasons to vote against the bill since it would essentially lock in an additional House seat for the Democrats. Although the bill would balance the situation out in the 112th Congress by giving Utah an additional seat as well (Utah came up just short of adding a 4th House seat based on the 2000 Census), there is no guarantee that Utah would keep the seat once the lottery balls were reshuffled again after 2010.

In any event, Steny Hoyer seems to have concluded that he doesn’t have the votes for either version of the bill.

As a piece of political maneuvering, this is pretty darn brilliant by the NRA. And more power to the NRA if they want to lobby to pass the Second Amendment provisions on their own accord; based on the votes on the Ensign Amendment, they’d probably have the votes if they could get it to the floor. But as a window to how the sausage gets made in Washington, it’s fairly revealing — and it’s a pretty disgusting sausage.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.