The House is ready on Thursday to pass a bill that would make Washington, DC, the country’s 51st state, a prospect that proponents cite a long overdue milestone for equality and critics call a naked seizure of power.
The proposal, backed by President Joe Biden and the leaders of both chambers of Congress, is expected to sail through the Democratic-run house. Still, there are tremendous opportunities in the Senate as long as the legislative filibuster persists.
Thursday’s bill would create a new state with two senators and one representative.
The vast majority of democratic lawmakers, once viewed as marginal concerns by the locals, are now in favor of statehood in the capital, whose more than 700,000 residents do not have full voting rights in the House of Representatives and Senate.
“This taxation without representation and denial of self-government is a violation of the democratic values on which our nation was founded,” Biden’s Bureau of Administration and Budget said in an official statement on administrative policy on Tuesday.
Statehood advocates also frame the issue in terms of racial justice and civil rights. Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, for example, argued in a House hearing last month that the city’s historically large black population had taken into account the denial of voting rights for its residents.
“Adding DC as a state shouldn’t have to do with politics,” House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, DN.Y., said Wednesday.
“It’s about equality and democracy, and Congress has a responsibility to ensure that all Americans receive the full rights that the Constitution promises. Now is the time to correct a historic injustice.”
Washington Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton sponsored bill contains 216 co-sponsors, all of whom are Democrats. The new state would encompass the entire District of Columbia except for the strip of land that houses the White House, main building, Supreme Court, and the national mall.
An earlier version, HR 51, passed in Congress last year and was the first time either house has approved an offer for DC statehood. But that legislation stood still in the Senate, led by Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Who refused to put it to a vote.
After the 2020 elections, the Senate Democrats gained a wafer-thin majority. The panel is now split 50:50 between the two parties, with Vice President Kamala Harris maintaining the tied vote.
But the filibuster, who needs 60 votes to pass most of the laws, would likely thwart any attempt to pass the Senate statehood law by simple majority. Additionally, a handful of moderate Democratic senators, including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, have yet to signal how they would vote.
It is also very unlikely that the bill will be supported by Republicans who accuse Democrats of using brute force to assert themselves in power.
Washington is one of the most liberal cities in the nation. If it became a state, Washington would add two reliably Democratic seats to the Senate, making it exponentially more difficult for the GOP to regain majority control.
With the face of the US political map on the table, critics oppose the Democrats’ insistence that their motivations are principled and not political.
“San Francisco will never vote Republicans, but it will do so before DC,” Conservative columnist George Will told the Washington Post on Wednesday. “Does anyone think that if the Democrats were as incorrigibly Republican as they were Democratic, the Democrats would prefer DC statehood, which would mean two more Republican Senators would sound to the last trumpet?”
Many Republican lawmakers have been blunt in their opposition.
Statehood “is nothing more than an unconstitutional takeover by Democrats to get two ultra-progressive seats in the DC Senate [and] Implement a radical, right-wing extremist policy against the American people, “said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., On the floor of the house.
Others have argued that Washington’s small size and arguably lack of diverse industries exclude it from statehood. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., Argued at last month’s hearing on the bill that DC would be “the only state, the only state with no airport, no dealership, no capital, no landfill”.
Democrats and fact checkers pointed out that the district has car dealerships.
No Republican senators have indicated that they would support the creation of a state for the district. However, some opponents have suggested an alternative in the form of a retrocession in which the neighboring state of Maryland would take over most of Washington.
Democrats reject this idea. Norton said in February that a retrocession was “inconsistent” with Washington’s “pursuit of self-determination”.
“DC statehood does not require a constitutional amendment,” added Norton, responding to another complaint about the statehood law. “Under the Constitution, Congress has the power to admit new states, and each new state has been approved by Congress.”
With Republicans dead to retake Congress in 2022 and the filibuster likely to stand in the way of much of the Democratic agenda, a growing chorus within the party is calling for the 60-vote rule to be abolished or reformed.
“There are no provisions in the constitution about a filibuster,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Said in an interview published Wednesday in the Washingtonian on the statehood law.
“To be honest, I think the filibuster rule should be removed in the United States so that democracy can prevail,” said Hoyer.
But Manchin has vowed to oppose any efforts to scrap or weaken the filibuster and to squeeze Democratic hopes of getting big agenda items through Congress without Republican votes.