Democrats renew DC statehood push that would remake national politics
For the first time the House passed a bill that would make Washington, D.C. the 51st state. If the bill gets past the Senate, here's how H.R. 51, The D.C. Statehood Act would work.
House Democrats are moving forward with their plan to add the District of Columbia as the 51st state of the union and this time they have supportive leaders in the Senate and the White House on their side.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has been leading the statehood charge in Congress, predicted earlier this year "there’s never been a time when statehood for the District was more likely."
The first step will take place Monday, when the House Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold a hearing on Norton's 51st state legislation, aptly titled H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has pushed to have a statehood bill on President Biden's desk within his first 100 days in office, will be among the witnesses testifying. Biden is supportive of D.C. becoming the 51st state.
Bowser has framed statehood as a civil rights issue where taxpaying U.S. citizens have been disenfranchised for the last 200 years and denied democracy.
Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, D.C., speaks during a news conference ahead of a District of Columbia statehood bill vote on Capitol Hill on Thursday, June 25, 2020. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
With Democrats in control of the House, the Senate and the White House, Bowser said in January that the momentum toward statehood is "a promising sign that our country is finally ready to right this historic wrong."
D.C. statehood already passed the House last June but it died in the GOP-led Senate. House leadership is committed to bringing up statehood for a vote again this year and 214 Democrats have co-sponsored the legislation — or just about all of the Democratic caucus which sits at 220 members currently.
With the Senate now in Democratic hands, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., is leading the effort there for statehood. So far, his statehood legislation has 40 of the 50 Democratic senators signed on as co-sponsors. However, without changing the legislative filibuster, Carper would need the support of at least 10 Republicans to meet the 60-vote threshold to advance — an uphill climb in a divided Senate.
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.
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.
The area around the White House, Capitol, Supreme Court and National Mall would be carved out into a federal district controlled by Congress and named the "Capital."
Republicans have been firmly against D.C. statehood, calling it a Democratic power grab designed to tip the balance in the Senate in favor of Democrats by adding two senators from a liberal stronghold.
During the hearing Monday, Republican House members will have one witness, Zack Smith of the Heritage Foundation.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton speaks on Capitol Hill on July 23, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
GOP members intend to say H.R. 51 is unconstitutional and raise concerns about Democrats’ failure to consider the practical and financial implications of D.C. statehood, D.C.’s "radical" policies and the progressives’ political motives behind D.C. statehood, according to a Republican Oversight Committee aide.
"D.C. statehood is all about Speaker Pelosi and liberal Democrats consolidating their power to enact radical policies nationwide like the Green New Deal, packing the Supreme Court, and eliminating the filibuster," said Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the top Republican on the oversight committee.
Comer said H.R. 51 "is a dangerous political power grab that will ensure more government intrusion into Americans’ daily lives."
The push for statehood comes after House Democrats passed H.R. 1, a massive restructuring of election and campaign finance laws that Republicans also panned as a power grab. That legislation now sits in the Senate, where it also requires 60 votes to advance.
H.R. 1 would set federal guidelines for elections such as automatic voter registration; restoring voting rights to felons after they have completed their sentences; and expanding early voting access and absentee voting. The legislation also allows voting without an identification card if a voter signs a written statement attesting to their identity, under the penalty of perjury.