D.C. Statehood Bill Passes House, Likely to Stall in Senate

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state, sending it to the Senate, where opposition from Republicans and the focus on other priorities are likely to leave it stalled.

The bill, H.R. 51, was passed 216-208 with only Democrats voting in favor.

The District of Columbia, with about 693,000 residents, has a population size greater than Wyoming or Vermont and its residents pay federal taxes and cast votes for president. But it only has one non-voting representative in Congress, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has introduced a D.C. statehood bill every year in Congress since 1991.

“All that we’re seeking and all that we’re asking for is simply the principle that no taxation without representation,” Representative Danny Davis of Illinois said. “I look forward to the people of Washington D.C. having all rights of citizenship as a member of a state.”

The measure would make most parts of the 68-square-mile District of Columbia the 51st state named Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, for abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The federal capital would be shrunk to roughly the area of the national Mall, including federal buildings and monuments, the White House, the Capitol building and the Supreme Court building.

President Joe Biden has endorsed the statehood drive. His administration put out a statement that the city’s lack of representation in Congress “is an affront to the democratic values on which our Nation was founded.”

The legislation was passed by the House last year, but it was not brought up in the Senate, which was then controlled by Republicans. Although Democrats now control the chamber, Republicans can still block most legislation due to the filibuster.

Republicans have consistently opposed making D.C. a state. They have argued the measure is a tactic by Democrats to gain two more Senate seats, as the city votes overwhelming for Democrats. GOP lawmakers also assert the bill would violate the Constitution and the 23rd amendment that extended the right to vote in presidential elections to District residents.

“What the Democrats really are trying to do, that they will not admit, is gain even more representation by creating a city-state whereby they get two more senators,” said Representative Jody Hice, a Georgia Republican. “This is absolutely against what our Constitution and our founders intended.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday that D.C. statehood is an idea whose time has come, but said Republicans are standing in the way. He accused some of them of bigotry and noted the district’s large African-American population.

“We all know that the minority party opposes D.C. statehood because it fears giving political power and representation to American citizens that they might not vote for Republicans,” he said. “It smacks of the effort going on right now in Republican legislatures all across the country to pass laws that overwhelmingly make it harder for minorities, poor Americans and younger Americans to vote.”

Schumer has not yet scheduled the measure for a vote. It is also unclear whether or not all Senate Democrats would vote to pass the measure.

The Senate has several priorities on its agenda already including Biden’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure package and legislation aimed to boost U.S. competitiveness with China which could delay a vote on H.R. 51.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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