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Backers of Bill for Utah, DC House Seats Push for Senate Vote

Backers of Bill for Utah, DC House Seats Push for Senate Vote

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WASHINGTON (AP)-- Supporters of new House seats for Utah and the District of Columbia predicted they have enough support to win a vote in the Senate on a "great civil rights issue."

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, advocates said they are pushing for a vote before the Senate leaves on its August break.

While they don't have a commitment from Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., they are confident the bill could pass if it lands on the calendar.

"When push comes to shove, people are not going to deny this going through," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who backs the bill along with fellow Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett.

"It would be pathetic if we didn't go through with this," he said.

A bill granting the district its first voting member and giving Utah a fourth House seat has passed the House. It has been a tougher sell, however, in the Senate where many Republicans believe it is unconstitutional and have threatened to block it.

Advocates said a majority in the Senate would vote for the bill, and they believe they can also get the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and overcome a filibuster.

Yet even Hatch conceded it's still uncertain exactly which Republicans will back the bill.

"Getting 60 votes is going to be the chore," he said.

Advocates promised to inundate Senate offices with phone calls urging lawmakers to back the bill.

Later this week, supporters will "fill the sidewalks" on Capitol Hill to push for a vote, said Ilir Zherka, executive director of the advocacy group, DC Vote.

Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley, said it was unclear if the bill would get a hearing before the August recess.

"It remains to be seen what kind of attempts there will be by Republicans to block it. We don't have time for filibusters," Manley said.

The District has a delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is allowed to vote only in House committees. Utah was added to the bill, in part to make it more palatable to Republicans.

The state missed a fourth House seat by just 857 people in 2000. Officials have argued that the government should have counted more than 11,000 Mormon missionaries living overseas.

Utah likely would elect a Republican to the new seat, while District voters would almost certainly choose a Democrat.

Still, much of the debate over the bill has centered on whether the Constitution allows the District a voting member of the House. Advocates say granting District residents voting rights is the most important civil rights issue of the day.

"No other democracy denies that right," Zherka said.

Republicans argue the Constitution expressly limits House representation to states, and the District is not a state.

One of the many Republicans who have vowed to vote against the bill, Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, said earlier this summer that giving the District a vote would be a "step toward creating a city-state."

Hatch and other supporters have argued that there is precedent. If Congress can tax District residents and grant them other rights, he said, it can give them a full-fledged member of the House.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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