House Set To Pass D.C. Statehood Bill In Historic Vote

June 26, 2020 by Gaspard Le Dem
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser.

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives on Friday will vote on historic legislation that would grant statehood to the District of Columbia, making it the 51st U.S. state.

The bill — aptly named H.R. 51 — is expected to pass with little to no friction, having gathered a solid majority of 226 Democratic co-sponsors in the House.

If passed, it would mark the first time either the House or Senate has approved a proposal to grant statehood to the District and to give its more than 700,000 residents full representation in Congress. 

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s Democratic, non voting delegate in Congress and a longtime advocate for statehood, introduced H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, in January of 2019. At the time, the bill had just 155 co-sponsors in the House.

At a press conference on Thursday, Norton highlighted the progress that statehood has made in Congress over the last few decades.

“Not long after being elected to the House of Representatives, I got the first-ever vote on D.C. statehood,” Norton said. “Even with my party in power then, I did not succeed because many Democrats opposed the bill. Today, however, Democrats from every section of the nation are united on the principle that equal responsibilities, such as paying federal income taxes to support the nation and serving in the armed forces to defend it, demand equal rights in return.”

Still, the bill’s chances of traveling beyond the GOP-controlled Senate will be slim, at least until November, when Democrats have a chance to regain control of the upper chamber.

Historically, Republicans have shown little enthusiasm for D.C. statehood as it would give the District, a Democratic bastion, two new Senators and a fully voting member of the House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has repeatedly denounced D.C. statehood as an attempt by Democrats to gain a political advantage in Congress, calling it “full-bore socialism on the march” in an interview with Fox News last year.

President Trump has also pushed back on the idea. “D.C. will never be a state,” he told the New York Post in May. “Why? So we can have two more Democratic — Democrat senators and five more congressmen? No, thank you,” he added.

The White House on Wednesday threatened to veto H.R. 51, issuing a statement through its Office of Management and Budget that slammed the bill as unconstitutional. “The constitutional vision of our framers for our capital was sound,” the statement said. “We should not seek to undermine that vision through unconstitutional means like H.R. 51.”

Despite Republican opposition, H.R. 51 has gained momentum in recent weeks after Trump deployed federal troops to the District in an attempt to quell demonstrations against racial injustice and police violence. 

The president’s intervention on District turf provoked the ire of top Democrats in the House, who pushed the bill to the top of their agenda. 

“President Trump’s behavior in the District of Columbia in recent days, as well as his threats to impose his dangerous and callous will on a city about which he has proven again and again he has no understanding of, has underscored in dramatic terms the urgency of giving the District the same constitutional rights and authorities that the nation’s 50 states have had since 1789,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer earlier this month.

Recently, activists have argued that the lack of congressional representation for people in the District, where 47% of residents are Black and 11% Hispanic, is an issue of racial equity. 

“The U.S. Capitol, where the House and the Senate meet, was built by slaves,” said Getachew Kassa, a member of the Democracy Initiative, at a press conference organized by advocates on Thursday. “The promise of American democracy will continue to ring hollow until their descendants and all D.C. residents have a right to send their own voting representatives into the halls of Congress.”

Under H.R. 51, the District of Columbia would be admitted into the Union as the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth. The newly minted state would have roughly the same boundaries as the District has currently, minus some parts of the National Mall, which would remain part of a reduced federal District.

Critics have suggested that granting D.C. statehood would violate the Constitution. Last week, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., called the proposal “farcical” in a tweet, arguing that it would require amending the constitution rather than passing a simple bill.

The OMB statement released on Wednesday argued that Maryland, which ceded part of its territory to form the District of Columbia in 1790, would likely need to agree to a statehood bill.

But many legal experts and advocates for statehood have challenged that notion.

“It’s an old discredited argument,” said Josh Burch, a longtime resident and the founder of Neighbors United for DC Statehood. “The state of Maryland gave up the land to the federal government unconditionally. Congress doesn’t need Maryland’s permission to make the residential and commercial portions of D.C. into a state.”

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