The House approved a measure to make Washington, D.C. the 51st state on Friday, a historic vote which marks the first time a D.C. statehood proposal has passed in either chamber of Congress, though it is expected to fail in the Senate.
What We Know:
- The legislation, titled H.R. 51, would create the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, named after Frederick Douglass. It also would allow two senators and a voting representative in the House, something D.C. does not currently have. It would also reduce the size of the federal district to a tourist-friendly area that includes the White House, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, federal monuments, and the federal executive, legislative, and judicial office buildings adjacent to the National Mall and the Capitol, with the rest becoming part of the new state.
- The vote was 232 to 180, with every Republican and one Democrat voting “no” to this highly partisan issue. With a republican controlled Senate, the legislation is expected to fail the vote, but President Trump promised to veto the measure if it somehow makes it to his desk, declaring it unconstitutional.
- The legislation would have to meet a bipartisan 60-vote threshold in the Senate to advance.
- One reason for the push for statehood is the district has a population of over 700,000 people, larger than the populations of Wyoming and Vermont but D.C. residents have no voting representation in Congress. Eleanor Holmes Norton represents D.C. in Congress as a non-voting delegate. “The United States is the only democratic country that denies both voting rights in the national legislature and local autonomy to the residents of the nation’s capital,” Norton said in a speech on the House floor ahead of the vote.
- Norton has been pressing for a vote on the matter for years. When Democrats assumed the House majority last year, she secured a promise from leaders to bring up the bill for the first time in more than a quarter-century. “Congress has two choices,” Norton said. “It can continue to exercise undemocratic, autocratic authority over the 705,000 American citizens, treating them, in the words of Frederick Douglass, as ‘aliens, not citizens, but subjects.’ Or Congress can live up to this nation’s promise and ideals, end taxation without representation and pass” the statehood bill.
- Republicans have long opposed the move to give congressional representation to the District of Columbia, where more than three-quarters of voters are registered Democrats. Republicans argue that if representation for its citizens was the sole issue, the District of Columbia should simply be absorbed into Maryland, another heavily Democratic state.
- Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, declared on Thursday that Wyoming, a state with a smaller population, was a “well-rounded, working-class state” superior to Washington, which would amount to “an appendage of the federal government” full of lobbyists and civil servants. Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz retorted in a tweet that D.C. residents shouldn’t be deprived of representation “just because Tom Cotton doesn’t think they have the right jobs.
DC residents are Americans who pay federal taxes and they shouldn’t get screwed just because Tom Cotton doesn’t think they have the right jobs. https://t.co/IT3YLozu0H
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) June 25, 2020
- Wyoming is more than 80 percent white, while the majority of the District of Columbia is composed of people of color which has led to critics questioning the true motive of blocking the legislation. Stasha Rhodes, campaign director of the pro-statehood group 51 for 51 said, ” Denying D.C. statehood to over 700,000 residents, the majority of them black and brown, is systemic racism. D.C. statehood is one of the most urgent civil rights and racial justice issues of our time — and we know we are on the right side of history.”
- Some are accusing the opponents of wanting to deny statehood because of the District’s large Black population. “Washington, D.C., is the home to more Americans than two states, and more than 46 percent of the 700,000 residents are Black,” Rep. Maxine Waters said. “Make no mistake, race underlies every argument against D.C. statehood,” she added. “And denying its citizens equal participation and representation is a racial, democratic, and economic injustice we cannot tolerate.”
- Opponents of the legislation questioned the constitutional merits, arguing that the founding fathers intentionally did not establish the nation’s capital as a state. Others questioned whether the District of Columbia was geographically and economically viable to be a state. “Our nation’s founders made it clear that D.C. is not meant to be a state,” said Representative Jody B. Hice, Republican of Georgia. “They thought about it, they debated it, and they rejected it.”
- DC will never be a state,” Trump told The Post in May, “You mean District of Columbia, a state? Why? So we can have two more Democratic — Democrat senators and five more congressmen? No thank you. That’ll never happen.” He also added that Washington, DC won’t ever be a state because Republicans aren’t “stupid” enough to add guaranteed Democratic seats in Congress.
- Top Democrats took to the floor to argue passionately for its passage, denouncing the disenfranchisement of Washington residents. Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed the Republican arguments that the new state would simply give Democrats a political advantage. Alaska and Hawaii, she pointed out, had entered the union as overwhelmingly Democratic and Republican states and then flipped politically. “What the state is, that can change over time,” Pelosi said. “But the fact is, people in the District of Columbia pay taxes, fight wars, risk their lives for our democracy — and yet in this place, they have no vote in the House and Senate.”
Current D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the House vote would lay the groundwork for another administration to make statehood law. Former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, has said he would support the move.