Hours after US Virgin Islands Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen was sworn-in to the 112th Congress on Wednesday, she and her fellow delegates lost their right to vote in the US House of Representatives’ Committee of the Whole. See excerpts with a link to the full article below:
One of the first actions of the new Republican-led House was to adopt the legislative body’s new rules, including a provision to strip the delegates’ right to vote in the Committee of the Whole, which is when the entire chamber becomes a committee to address certain types of legislation, such as appropriations. The new rule affects the five delegates representing the District of Columbia, Guam, the [U.S.] Virgin Islands, the Northern Marianas Islands and American Samoa and the resident commissioner of Puerto Rico. Five of those representatives are Democrats, and the delegate from the Northern Marianas Islands, is an independent.
Delegates to Congress do not have a vote on the floor of the House, but they are able to vote in committee. In recent years, they have been able to vote in the Committee of the Whole, although they do not get a deciding vote. If a vote is close enough that the delegates’ votes could affect the outcome, the members can call for a revote without the delegates’ participation, Christensen said.
Democrats first extended the voting rights to the representatives from the territories and Washington, D.C., in 1993 when they controlled the House, but Republicans reversed the decision when they became the majority in 1995. Democrats restored those voting rights when they regained control of the House in 2007.
Christensen said having a vote in the Committee of the Whole is important. “It means that I have an opportunity on behalf of the people I represent, the people of the Virgin Islands, who are likely to be affected by a law, to be able to shape that law before it goes to a final vote on the floor,” she said. She said it also allows her to place her views on the record, and speak up for her constituents. [. . .] Christensen’s statement highlighted the fact that many people in the U.S. Virgin Islands — however they might have come to reside in the territory — are still American citizens. She also pointed out that many Virgin Islanders serve in the armed forces and deserve to be represented fairly in Congress. While Christensen was not allowed to speak during the floor debate, many of her Democratic colleagues chose to use their time to defend the delegates’ right to vote.
New Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and the ranking Democratic member on the House Rules Committee, characterized the loss of the vote as disenfranchisement of Americans. “The point that everybody was trying to make was that the first act of this Congress was to deny further representation to almost 5 million Americans. That was not an auspicious way to start,” Christensen said.