Advocates Push to Make DC the 51st State at Hearing: "The Time for DC Statehood is Now"

Mar 22, 2021
In The News

Advocates and opponents – along with Democrats and Republicans – clashed at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing to debate making Washington, D.C., the 51st state – a movement that has heated up since Democrats retook the Senate and White House and in the aftermath of the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

American flags bearing 51 stars flew all over the nation's capital at the direction of Mayor Muriel Bowser ahead of the hearing to highlight the D.C. statehood movement.

Bowser, who testified at the hearing, argued that D.C. has a population larger than two states, pay more federal taxes per capita than any state and more taxes than 22 states, and misses out on crucial benefits of statehood, including crucial funds from previous COVID-19 relief packages. 

"Arguing that Washingtonians must remain disenfranchised to protect the interest of the federal government is dangerous, outdated and downright insulting," Bowser said in response to the critics of the statehood measure.

Lawmakers introduced the statehood bill in late January, which would grant D.C.’s more than 700,000 citizens full representation in Congress, as well as authority over local issues. Currently, D.C. has a non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives, and no representation in the U.S. Senate. Residents can vote for president, though they can never have more electors than the least-populous state, according to the 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

The bill would reduce the federal district to a two square-mile stretch that includes the U.S. Capitol and the White House. The rest of the city would be known as the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.

D.C. residents are also subject to all federal taxes. The slogan “End Taxation Without Representation,” a common rallying cry for D.C. statehood that echoes the political slogan that started the American Revolution, even appears on the district’s license plates.

The District has a population larger than two U.S. states – Vermont and Wyoming, a point which Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) noted on Twitter – and all of the United States’ territories other than Puerto Rico.

Opponents of D.C. statehood have slammed it as a Democratic power-grab. In July of 2020, after House Democrats passed a bill to advance D.C. statehood, several Republican Senators, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Tom Cotton (R-AK) called it a "Democratic power grab" which would "empower the most radical agenda in modern American politics."

Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the ranking member of the committee, called the bill "Plan B of the Democrat political power grab," alleging that "Plan A" is abolishing the legislative filibuster in the Senate, which a number of Democrats are opposed to doing.

"D.C. statehood is a key part of the radical leftist agenda to reshape America, along with the Green New Deal, defunding the police and packing the U.S. Supreme Court," Comer said in his opening remarks.

House Oversight Chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) said that "the real power grab is denying 712,000 taxpaying American citizens the right to vote."

"D.C. residents are American citizens. They fight honorably to protect our nation overseas. They pay taxes. In fact, D.C. pays more in federal taxes than 22 states, and more per capita than any state in our nation. D.C. residents have all the responsibilities of citizenship, but they have no congressional voting rights, and only limited self government," Maloney went on to say. "The sad truth is that most of my Republican colleagues oppose D.C. statehood simply because they believe it would dilute their power."

"Adding D.C. as a state should not be about politics," Maloney said. "It is about equality and democracy."

Georgia Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) argued against the measure claiming that D.C. does not have things like car dealerships or landfills. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) pointed out that while the lack of a car dealership is "not a constitutional restriction," those arguments are "frivolous."

Rep. Hice later said "if there’s a car dealership in D.C., I apologize for being wrong. I have no idea where it is."

Adding two Senators would likely change the balance of power in the U.S. Senate — since D.C. was granted the right to vote in presidential contests, the District has never voted for a Republican presidential candidate. 

Since 2000, D.C. has voted for Democrats in presidential elections over 85% of the time, peaking in 2008 at 92.5% for Barack Obama — D.C. voted for Joe Biden with 92.2% of the vote in 2020. 

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) claimed that Democrats are "attempting to use a razor-thin majority that it has to entrench itself in power" and asked numerous questions about how many Democrats live in the District. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) called Foxx's comments "profoundly inappropriate" and said she "let the cat out of the bag" in terms of painting the issue as one of partisanship rather than one of civil rights and represntation, which advocates claimed.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s nonvoting representative in the House who cosponsored the bill, said the issue was a personal one for her, telling the story of her great-grandfather, a fugitive slave who fled a Virginia plantation and built a new life in the District. 

"Today it is my great honor to serve in a city where my father’s family has lived without equal representation for almost two centuries," Del. Norton said. "Congress can no longer allow D.C. residents to be sidelined in the democratic process."

Calls for statehood have only grown since the U.S. Capitol riot by a pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6, which left 5 dead. The city had no power to activate the National Guard to quell the riot.

"The mayor of DC cannot deploy the DC National Guard case in of emergencies like the insurrection we saw just two months ago our nation's Capitol that resulted in the death of police officers and dozens of injuries," Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, one of the bill's cosponsors, said.

For the D.C. statehood measure to succeed, the bill would require 60 votes to beat the Senate filibuster threshold, with all 50 Democrats needing 10 Republican Senators to join in supporting the measure. While unlikely, Sen. Carper expressed optimism: "I'm tenacious. I don't give up, and I'm pretty good at working across the aisle."