Thursday, 22 April 2021 16:40

House of Representatives Passes D.C. Statehood Bill

Written by Rachel Kurzius | DCist
Ahead of Thursday’s vote, statehood supporters stood out in across the different wards in D.C. signaling support for the statehood vote. In Ward 6 at Maine Ave SW in front of The Wharf, D.C. statehood supporters Emma P. Ward, left, (Ms. Senior District of Columbia 2011) and Joyce Robinson-Paul. Ahead of Thursday’s vote, statehood supporters stood out in across the different wards in D.C. signaling support for the statehood vote. In Ward 6 at Maine Ave SW in front of The Wharf, D.C. statehood supporters Emma P. Ward, left, (Ms. Senior District of Columbia 2011) and Joyce Robinson-Paul. Tyrone Turner / DCist / WAMU

The full House of Representatives voted for HR 51, the bill that would make D.C. a state.

All of the 216 votes in favor of the measure came from Democrats, with zero Republicans on board.

While members of the GOP claim their objections to statehood come from concerns about its constitutionality, they’ve also called the policy a Democratic power grab, because it would likely mean two more Democratic senators.

“Congress has both the moral obligation and the constitutional authority to pass HR 51,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who authored the bill and has introduced a statehood measure every term she’s been in Congress. However, because the D.C. delegate does not have a vote on the House floor, she was unable to add her “aye” to the bill’s passage.

This is the second time in less than a year that the House of Representatives passed a D.C. statehood bill, after last June marked a historic first.

Unlike last go-around, though, the Democrats now have control of both the Senate and the White House. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer backs statehood, and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the lead sponsor on the Senate version of the bill, is calling for a hearing on the measure. (The last Senate hearing on statehood was in 2014.)

President Joe Biden said he would sign the bill. A policy statement from the White House earlier this week called on Congress to “provide a swift and orderly transition to statehood for the people of Washington, D.C.”

But there’s still a bumpy road ahead: Not all 50 of the Senate Democrats are yet on board. And without filibuster reform, the measure would require 10 Republican senators to vote in favor of it as well.

How realistic is it that Republicans would get on the statehood bandwagon? “Because I believe it is the right thing to do, I think it’s possible. Is it probable? Probably not,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told DCist/WAMU before the vote. “That does not mean we shouldn’t pass it and say, ‘Look, this is what we believe.’ … We’ve moved ahead. Are we there yet? I don’t know, but we’re going to keep fighting.”

When Norton first brought statehood to a House vote in 1993, Hoyer was among those who opposed it. His current belief that “it’s the only path forward,” which he announced in 2019, speaks to the broader momentum of the movement in recent years.

HR 51 would turn D.C.’s eight wards into a state called Douglass Commonwealth, whose residents would be represented by a member of the House and two senators. A 2-square-mile federal enclave, comprised of the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and the National Mall, would remain under congressional control.

While the District has a larger population than two states and a GDP larger than 17 states, its 712,000 residents cannot fully participate in either federal or local politics. In addition to its lack of representation on Capitol Hill, D.C. often falls victim to Congressional meddling — representatives who are not accountable to residents can impact policies like abortion and marijuana.

“Some say it’s not about race and partisanship,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “You can be sure it’s about race and partisanship,” noting that D.C. would be the first plurality Black state. “How somebody votes should not be a test of if they should vote in a democracy,” he added.

Twenty-two Republican attorneys general have threatened to sue if the measure becomes law, calling statehood for D.C. “antithetical to our representative democratic republic” that would “constitute an unprecedented aggrandizement of an elite ruling class with unparalleled power and Federal access compared to the remaining fifty states of the Union.” (Mirroring the partisan divide on the issue in Congress, 24 Democratic AGs fired back in a letter of their own.)

But as Hoyer noted on Thursday, the Republican solution to D.C.’s disenfranchisement — retrocession to Maryland — would have the same degree of access to the federal government.

“You would have a state surrounding the federal enclave. No difference, only it would be Maryland, not the Douglass Commonwealth,” Hoyer said. “The only difference is two senators.”

Indeed, Republicans have used a variety of novel arguments to oppose statehood, including D.C.’s lack of landfills, mining, or airports. None of these are prerequisites for admittance to the Union as a state.

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) called GOP arguments against statehood “racist insinuations that somehow the people of Washington D.C. are incapable or even unworthy of our democracy. One Senate Republican said that D.C. wouldn’t be a quote, well-rounded, working class state,” he said, referring to comments from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) last summer. “I had no idea there were so many syllables in the word white.”

Read this DCist article online.

Read 522 times Last modified on Thursday, 26 August 2021 20:32

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