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Analysis: Norton Snubbed On D.C. Abortion, Violence Against Women Act Stalled

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David Hawkings, CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

This week sparked a furious debate on Capitol Hill over states' rights, or in this case, District rights. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) was denied her request to testify at a House hearing on a bill to tighten D.C.'s abortion laws.

David Hawkings, editor-in-chief of the CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing, talks with WAMU Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey about that and other happenings in Congress this past week.

On whether the abortion bill from Rep. Trent Franks (R) is a debate about abortion or state rights: "It's a bit of both. It is absolutely an effort by House Republcans to use their ability to advance legislation that affects the District, which as every District resident knows goes back into the 19th cent," Hawkings says. "It's also an effort to advance their abortion restriction agenda." 

Reaction to Franks' denial of Norton's request to testify at the hearing: "It is somewhat amazing to me that Trent Franks would have sort of baited the bear on this by doing something as dramatic as denying Delegate Norton the right to speak at this hearing," Hawkings says. "It is routine Congressional courtesy, that if a member of Congress, especially one from a region of the country that is affected by legislation, asks to testify, that they get to test." 

On the reason for Franks' decision: "It is unclear why. It is only going to make matters more complicated," Hawkings says. "He says, the Democrats had a right to call one witness … and the minority chose not to call Eleanor Holmes Norton as their witness. That is true, but beyond that, there is a courtesy that if a member wants to testify, he or she is almost always allowed to."

Whether there's hope of passing another bill sparking a women's rights debate this week, the Violence Against Women Act: "That seems to be going into the place where so many other bills go these days, which is total gridlock, deadlock, and impasse," Hawkings says. "The Senate Democrats passed one version, and House Republicans have passed their version. The differences look to be about gay and lesbian rights; the Senate Democrats' version would extend domestic violence protection to gay, lesbian, and transgender people. The House version would not."

Why there's been an impasse: "It does seem as though both sides for their own political reasons have decided that they would rather have the issue than the bill," Hawkings says. "Amazingly, four years ago, when this bill was reauthorized, it didn't even merit a mention in our publications, because it was such a routine matter. But this year, even routine matters …  have become polarized.

Whether legislation passed in the Senate this week granting benefits to same-sex domestic partners working for the federal government will go anywhere: "It also seems destined for an impasse," Hawkings says. "It's unlikely that the House Republican majority will allow this bill to get through the house. This is a multiyear cause that is not going to get over the finish line this year."

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