Democrats in the United States House of Representatives approved bill on Thursday to make Washington, DC, the 51st state of the United States.
Parliament voted party-politically with opposition Republicans and approved Bill 216-208. It now faces an uphill battle in the US Senate, where it is viewed by Republicans as a democratic takeover.
While the city’s 705,000 residents are able to vote for candidates for the US president, they have no proxy voting in Congress and still have to pay taxes to the government.
If Washington, DC were made a state, new positions would be created in Congress – a House representative and two Senators – that would almost certainly be Democratic, as DC residents have historically been overwhelming for Democratic candidates have voted.
Legislation proposes creating the 51st state out of a piece of land on the Potomac that Congress reserved for the country’s capital in 1780. A piece of property around the White House, the US Capitol, and the National Mall would remain a federal district as set out in the US Constitution.
Under the newly approved House Bill of Representatives, the new state would be known as Washington, Douglass Commonwealth – named after the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who lived in Washington from 1877 until his death in 1895.
An identical statehood bill was passed in 2020 but quickly died in the then Republican-controlled Senate. Now that the 2020 elections leave Democrats in control of both houses and the White House, Republican senators could resort to a filibuster to break the statehood law.
For advocates of lifelong statehood like Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington’s longtime, non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives, the vote on Thursday was a high point of a life’s work.
“My service in Congress was dedicated to achieving the equality of the people I represent, which only statehood can offer,” Norton said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“My life as a third-generation Washington citizen is approaching this milestone.”
Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer intends to bring the bill to the Senate on Thursday.
“DC statehood is something I firmly believe in. We will do everything we can to exist,” Schumer said at a media conference on Capitol Hill.
The House just passed the bill to give DC official statehood.
This is about democracy. It’s about self-management. It’s about voting rights.
I was proud to reintroduce this bill in the Senate and we are working to make #DCStatehood a reality.
– Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) April 22, 2021
The move was strongly supported by President Joe Biden’s White House, which on Tuesday issued a statement calling Washington’s unrepresented status an “affront to the democratic values on which our nation was founded.”
The White House praised Washington as worthy of the state, with “a robust economy, rich culture, and diverse population of Americans from all walks of life who are entitled to full and equal participation in our democracy.”
The Republican opposition was seen in the House of Representatives during the floor debates on Thursday morning prior to the vote.
The founding fathers of the nation “never wanted DC to be a state, and they specifically phrased the constitution that way,” said Georgia Republican representative Jody Hice.
“This is absolutely contrary to what our founders intended and should be strongly opposed.”
But Virginia Democratic Representative Gerald Connolly pointed out that Kentucky was once part of Virginia but was carved out as a state through a simple act of Congress.
Connolly argued that the federal district, when first conceptualized, was a theoretical concept, rather than the community with a larger population than the states of Vermont and Wyoming.
“When the constitution was being written, this place didn’t exist,” he said.
“When people say it’s not about race and partisanship, you can be sure that it’s about race and partisanship.”
During a March hearing by a House Oversight Committee, Republicans argued that DC was unsuitable for statehood, while calling the entire effort a cynical democratic power game.
Opponents suggested a variety of alternatives, from exempting Washingtoners from federal taxes to “repatriating” most of DC to the state of Maryland.