Senate GOP Holds Firm in Opposing Statehood for Nation’s Capital

Senate Republicans made clear Tuesday they were giving no ground in their opposition to making Washington, D.C., the 51st state, dashing chances of the legislation getting a vote in the chamber.

At a hearing on the topic at the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, Republicans questioned the constitutionality of making the capital city a state.

“Legally Congress does not have the power to override the Constitution and that’s to me the most important issue here,” Senator Rob Portman, the ranking Republican on the committee, said.

The bill discussed, S. 51, would shrink the size of the nation’s capital to include federal buildings and monuments, the White House, the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court building and the national mall. The remaining 66 square miles of the city would become the 51st state named Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, named for abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass.

The House version of the bill passed 216-208 in April with only Democratic votes.

With nearly 700,000 residents, more than the population of Wyoming or Vermont, the District of Columbia doesn’t have representation in the Senate and has one non-voting representative in the House, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Holmes Norton has introduced a D.C. statehood bill every year in Congress since 1991. Senator Tom Carper is the sponsor of the Senate legislation.

“Congress has a choice,” Holmes Norton said during the hearing Tuesday. “It can continue to exclude D.C. residents from the democratic process, forcing them to watch from the sidelines as Congress votes on federal and D.C. laws, and to treat them, in the words of Frederick Douglass, as ‘aliens, not citizens, but subjects.’ Or it can live up to our nation’s founding principles and pass the D.C. statehood bill.”

Republicans have opposed proposals to make D.C. a state. Some lawmakers have argued that the bill would violate the Constitution and the 23rd Amendment that gave District residents the right to vote in presidential elections. Some Republicans have suggested that the territory given by Maryland to create the District be retroceded to the state.

“Our framers gave us a limited federal government, one which Congress only wields the power explicitly granted to it. Here neither the District clause nor the admission clause provide Congress with the power to transform the seat of government into a new state,” Portman said.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, testifying at the Senate hearing Tuesday joined Democrats in seeking to counter the constitutional arguments from Republicans.

“It is particularly contradictory that the 23rd Amendment, which was passed to expand democracy to taxpaying D.C. residents, is now being held up as the main barrier to further expanding constitutional rights in the District,” Bowser said.

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