At the beginning of this year, Political Charge readers told me in our annual survey that their top two priorities this year were protecting voting rights and our democracy. The fight for D.C. statehood tackles both of those issues.
On March 22 the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on the Washington D.C. Admission Act (appropriately numbered H.R.51) in the Committee on Oversight and Reform. (See who is on that committee here.) You might remember that in the last Congress, the House passed a bill to make Washington D.C. a state, but it never received a vote in Mitch McConnell’s Republican-controlled Senate.
In recent surveys, roughly half of Americans approve of the idea of making D.C. the 51st state, particularly after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. The Democrats want to use the hearings in Congress to bring more attention to this issue. Here is a short history of why D.C. is not a state, the problems and opportunities of making it a state, and how you can take action.
Why Isn’t D.C. a State?
D.C. was established as a federal district, separate from any states, early in the history of our country as a compromise between the north and south. (Hamilton fans will recall this story in “The Room Where It Happens.”) The belief at that time was that the government needed a neutral space — a belief that a recent essay in The Atlantic pointed out no longer has any meaning.
From Wikipedia: “The U.S. Constitution provided for a federal district under the exclusive jurisdiction of U.S. Congress; the district is therefore not a part of any U.S. state. The signing of the Residence Act on July 16, 1790, approved the creation of a capital district located along the Potomac River near the country’s East Coast. The City of Washington was founded in 1791 to serve as the national capital. In 1801, the land, formerly part of Maryland and Virginia…officially became recognized as the federal district.”
What Does this Bill Do?
This bill “would sidestep the need for an amendment and would operate like ordinary legislation by leaving intact a rump district that would be shrunken down to key federal buildings around the Capitol and White House while the rest of the city would be admitted as a new state.”
The Arguments For and Against
The arguments for making D.C. a state and giving residents representation are pretty convincing. One of the fundamental rights we have as citizens is to choose our two senators and one representative in Congress and to tell them how we want them to take action on our behalf. Not a single citizen in D.C. has that right. (Yes, D.C. has a delegate in Congress, but she is a nonvoting member.) They have no voice with politicians or the national media — literally no one cares about their opinions because they don’t have the same power that other voters in the country do.
D.C.’s population of almost 700,000, with Blacks comprising 45%, is already larger than Vermont’s and Wyoming’s. Those two states each have two senators representing their citizens in Congress. D.C. citizens should be given the same power.
Remember the term “no taxation without representation”? Well, every D.C. citizen pays taxes without any representation in Congress right now.
Also, the Jan. 6 insurrection revealed a logistical problem. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was unable to call in the National Guard to quell the violence because the power to do that in D.C. rests with the federal government.
Most importantly, the citizens of D.C. want to have representation. In 2016, D.C. held a referendum on the issue. Over 85% of D.C. citizens approved it.
As for the Republicans, their opposition to D.C. statehood is similarly obvious: Considering how Democratic D.C. votes in presidential elections —Joe Biden won 92% of the vote — it is incredibly likely that Republicans’ power in the Senate would be diluted if two more Democratic senators were added to the chamber.
What We Can Do
The first call we need to make is to our representative in the House. H.R.51 will be voted on there first.
Next, we need to press on our senators to abolish or at least reform the filibuster in order to pass this bill (among other bills) and tell them that we want to see D.C. admitted as the 51st state.
Check out this map, courtesy of Stephen Wolf at Daily Kos, as to where the senators stood on the issue as of late January:
One last bit of good news as we build the momentum needed to make D.C. statehood a reality: Last week, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that President Biden “supports D.C. statehood.”
Thank you for taking action!
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