Washington, D.C., statehood legislation introduced by Democrats


Congressional Democrats introduced legislation Wednesday to make the District the nation’s 51st state, hoping Democratic control of the House, the Senate and the White House will overcome Republican opposition.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said the District’s roughly 700,000 residents deserve full representation in Congress.

“There’s never been a time when statehood for the District was more likely,” Ms. Norton said.

The Senate bill has 39 Democratic sponsors, including Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York. The House passed the statehood measure last year, but it died in the Senate.

Although Democrats won control of the Senate this month, statehood faces an uphill climb. They would need 10 Senate Republicans to vote for the measure to overcome the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for such legislation.

Republicans have long opposed statehood for the heavily Democratic nation’s capital because it would almost certainly add two Democratic seats to the Senate.

The Constitution created the District, not to exceed 10 square miles, as the seat of the federal government with land ceded by Maryland and Virginia, although land was later returned to Virginia.

Under the Constitution, Congress received control of the District, and it immediately restricted the voting rights of D.C. residents. The 23rd Amendment, ratified in 1961, granted residents a say in presidential elections, but the city didn’t have an elected mayor until the Home Rule Act of the 1970s.

Given the Republican opposition to statehood, Democrats would need to vote to end the filibuster for the measure to pass. But Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have expressed opposition to eliminating the filibuster, likely dooming the effort.

Still, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland have committed to bringing the bill to the floor for a vote, Ms. Norton said. President Biden also supports the measure.

Stasha Rhodes, the campaign director for 51 for 51, said ending the filibuster and passing the Senate bill would provide “a chance to win the most urgent civil rights fight of our lifetimes: giving a vote in Congress to over 700,000 people who have been denied one.”

“The people of D.C. have worked over 200 years for representation, and we urge the Senate to act swiftly. D.C. deserves a vote during COVID relief negotiations, the impeachment trial and every other fight to come. The only way to guarantee that democracy truly prevails is by passing this legislation with 51 votes in the Senate,” she said.

Mr. Carper, who has introduced the bill in each Congress since 2013, cited the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and a June clash between demonstrators and police near the White House as the latest reasons for approving D.C. statehood. When supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol, he said, “it took hours to approve National Guard mobilization” because the move required White House approval.

Of the 54 National Guard units nationwide, Mr. Carper said, “only the D.C. National Guard doesn’t fall under local control. Instead, the order to mobilize the D.C. National Guard must come from the White House rather than the head of D.C. government.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser said statehood “cannot wait.”

“Generations of Washingtonians have been denied the right to participate in our democracy — to have their voices and votes heard in Congress, to help shape the future of our nation, and to have a say on Supreme Court justices,” she posted on Twitter.

The District has more residents than either Wyoming or Vermont. D.C. residents pay federal taxes and serve in the military, but their delegate does not have full voting rights in the House and they have no representation in the Senate.

Under the proposal, the newest state would be called “Washington, Douglass Commonwealth” named for abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The area around the White House, Capitol, Supreme Court and National Mall would become a federal district controlled by Congress and named the “Capital.”

“Despite paying more in federal taxes per capita than citizens of any of the 50 states, D.C. residents have no say in how those taxes are actually spent. This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue; it’s an American issue because the lack of fair representation for D.C. residents is clearly inconsistent with the values on which this country was founded,” Mr. Carper said. “It is therefore incumbent upon all of us who enjoy the right and the privilege of full voting rights and representation to take up the cause of our fellow citizens in the District of Columbia. We must use our voices to call out this historic injustice and right this wrong. I am hopeful that we can finally come together to do just that this Congress.”

Other liberals called for the statehood measure to be approved. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, said D.C. residents “deserve an equal voice in our government.”

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia in 2018, said minority voting rights are at issue.

“Let’s not forget: The current system of taxation without representation for Washingtonians constitutes a mass disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of Black Americans and people of color writ large,” she tweeted. “We must right this wrong, and #DCStatehood is the mechanism to get it done.”

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