Biden White House officially supports making DC the 51st state
Rep. James Comer says the vote is a political power grab and a way to end the filibuster and pass liberal legislation.
President Biden's White House Tuesday formally backed making Washington, D.C., the 51st state of the union and urged Congress to pass the H.R. 51 legislation to give Washingtonians "long overdue full representation."
The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said the Biden administration "strongly supports" the D.C. statehood legislation that would give the district two new senators and one member of Congress.
"For far too long, the more than 700,000 people of Washington, D.C., have been deprived of full representation in the U.S. Congress," the White House OMB statement said. "This taxation without representation and denial of self-governance is an affront to the democratic values on which our nation was founded.
"H.R. 51 rights this wrong by making Washington, D.C., a state and providing its residents with long overdue full representation in Congress, while maintaining a federal district that will continue to serve as our nation’s seat of government."
Biden's statement of support comes as the House is starting a set of votes on Tuesday to approve H.R. 51.
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, testifies at the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, on D.C. statehood, Monday, March 22, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Caroline Brehman/Pool via CQ Roll Call)
D.C. officials and Democrats have framed the statehood issue as a civil rights matter for residents who have been historically disenfranchised. But Republicans have been firmly against D.C. statehood, calling it an unconstitutional Democratic power grab designed to shift control in the Senate by adding two senators from a liberal stronghold.
Republicans argue the federal enclave's establishment is constitutionally based, so any change to the district must come in the form of a constitutional amendment – not legislation from Congress. They've raised concerns over the 23rd Amendment, which gave the District three electoral votes in the presidential Electoral College and whether statehood could be granted before its repeal.
But the Biden administration signaled the Congress has the "authority" to expand the size of the union.
The Capitol is seen in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) ((AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite))
"The administration looks forward to working with the Congress as H.R. 51 proceeds through the legislative process to ensure that it comports with Congress’ constitutional responsibilities and its constitutional authority to admit new states to the union by legislation," the White House said. "The administration calls for the Congress to provide for a swift and orderly transition to statehood for the people of Washington, D.C."
D.C. has a population of more than 700,000 residents – greater than Wyoming and Vermont – but the residents don't have voting members in Congress or full control over local affairs. However, the District of Columbia pays more in federal taxes than 21 states and more per capita than any state, according to the 2019 IRS data book.
Under the plan, the 51st state would be called "Washington, Douglass Commonwealth," named for Frederick Douglass. The state would consist of 66 of the 68 square miles of the present-day federal district.
D.C. would have full control over local affairs and full representation in Congress, which would amount to two senators and one representative in the House based on the current population.
"Establishing the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, as the 51st state will make our union stronger and more just," the White House said. "Washington, D.C., has a robust economy, a rich culture and a diverse population of Americans from all walks of life who are entitled to full and equal participation in our democracy."
The statehood legislation, H.R. 51, has 215 cosponsors, which all but shores up Democratic support in the House this week. The Senate version of the bill, S. 51, sponsored by Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, has 44 of the 50 Democrats in the Senate as co-sponsors, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
However, with the filibuster in place, the legislation needs 60 votes to advance and therefore will die again in the Senate without GOP support.