Washington D.C. has fought for statehood for over a century. Despite District residents winning the right to vote in presidential elections in 1963, they still do not have the same level of representation in Congress that citizens of full states do; in fact, D.C. license plates have featured the slogan “Taxation without Representation” for almost 20 years. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), who has served as the District of Columbia’s nonvoting representative for nearly three decades, has introduced a D.C. statehood bill every legislative session since being elected. However, as Democrats look for ways to increase their power in Congress, the odds of D.C. becoming a state are the greatest they have ever been.
Norton’s newest statehood bill, H.R. 51 (referring to D.C.’s potential status as the 51st state), has gained over 200 cosponsors in the House, including House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who signed on to the bill earlier this week. “I have been hesitant in past years to call for statehood for the district because I believed that we could achieve voting rights for its residents without having to take the politically difficult steps statehood would entail,” Hoyer wrote in an editorial featured in The Washington Post. “I now believe the only path to ensuring its representation is through statehood.”
H.R. 51 as it is written would grant D.C. full statehood, meaning that the District would be given two senators and at least one representative. All eight wards within D.C.’s borders would be a part of the new state, with the exception of the Capitol and National Mall, which would remain federal land. Granting the District of Columbia these rights would undoubtedly provide Democrats an edge over Republicans in the Senate. Washington, D.C. heavily and consistently leans left; Hillary Clinton garnered 90% of the vote in the 2016 presidential election, and D.C. residents haven’t elected a Republican to local government in several years. Because of this, the odds of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) considering the bill are slim to none.
Despite the fact that Republicans are unlikely to consider the measure even upon potential passage in the House, Democrats are not discouraged. The measure is even receiving support from Democrats on the campaign trail; Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) expressed her support on Twitter, proclaiming: “Democracy doesn’t mean ‘for some of us.’ It’s time for Washington, DC to have statehood and equal representation in Congress, and we should only need a simple majority to make it happen.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also voiced her support, saying that “700,000 people is more than the populations of Wyoming or Vermont, but D.C. residents don’t have an equal voice in our government – despite paying federal taxes.”
The House instituted a rule this session that any bill with 290 cosponsors must go to the floor for a vote. The bill currently has a little over 200 cosponsors, but reaching 290 cosponsors is not possible without bipartisan support. Unsurprisingly, no House Republicans have chosen to sign on to the bill yet. Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said that the House Oversight and Reform Committee will hold a hearing on D.C. statehood on July 24.
Did you know…
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