The House, in Thursday’s party-line vote, passed legislation to make Washington, D.C., the nation’s 51st state, submit the bill to the Senate.
It’s the House’s second approval of such legislation in two years, but the statehood bill, long a priority for the nation’s capital, faces an uphill climb in a Senate equally split between the two parties.
Winning a Senate vote will likely entail stopping the filibuster, requiring most bills to clear a 60-vote hurdle. Not all 50 Senate Democrats support making D.C. a territory.
The 216-208 House vote on H.R. 51, called to reflect that D.C. will become the nation’s 51st state, comes as Democrats have stepped up their efforts on a number of racial justice initiatives.
D.C. was a majority Black city for decades; today its population is just under 50% Black.
On Tuesday, the White House officially expressed its support for the law, saying it would give “long-overdue full representation in Congress” to district residents.
Republicans opposed granting D.C. statehood, partly because it would possibly lead to two more Democratic senators and a Democratic House member, considering the political leanings of the district population. President Biden received three electoral votes in last year’s election, with 92 percent of the vote.
They also gave other reasons against statehood, saying the founders did not want the city to be a state, or that Washington would be better off being part of an established state like Maryland. One Republican legislator said D.C. shouldn’t be a state because it doesn’t have car dealerships. The district has many dealerships.
Washington, D.C., has three electoral votes, but it’s representative to the House, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), can not vote on legislation.
Norton and the House Democratic leadership have consistently pushed back against the bill’s GOP criticism, arguing the District’s political leaning is insignificant in ensuring all Americans are equally represented in Congress.
She and other supporters have pointed out that the District pays more federal taxes per capita than every nation state and more than 20 states in total. Its population—just over 700,000—is larger than Vermont and Wyoming and equivalent to a few other states.
H.R. 51 will make the District a new state by a novel procedure. The city would not cease to exist, but would instead be shrunk to include the National Mall, museums, the White House, and other federal buildings. The city’s rest will become the new state.
The few people living in the new federal capital could vote in the state they previously resided in.
H.R. 51 also includes a provision that will expedite the repeal of the 23rd Amendment, which grants D.C. presidential voting rights.
The law is one of several bills passed by the House last session, but never saw any airtime in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Though Democrats in the now-50-50 upper chamber have a thin, tie-breaking edge, significant roadblocks to D.C. statehood remain, especially the filibuster.
The procedural rule impedes many Democratic legislative goals and is unlikely to be revoked given the staunch opposition of centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
Even if Democrats could somehow dissolve the filibuster, Manchin’s approval stamps and other moderates would be required to get the 50 votes needed to force Vice President Harris’ tie-breaking vote.
That said, one thing that helps prospects for H.R. 51 is Biden’s tremendous support.
“For far too long, Washington, D.C.’s more than 700,000 residents were deprived of absolute U.S. Congress representation. This taxation without representation and self-governance rejection is an affront to the democratic ideals on which our nation was created,” the White House said in its official endorsement of the cause. “Establishing Washington, Douglass Commonwealth as the 51st state would make our Union stronger and fairer.”
National support for D.C. statehood has grown over the past year, with the country becoming more aware of the district’s failure to regulate its own National Guard last summer in protest over George Floyd’s police killing. D.C.’s National Guard is under federal, not state, jurisdiction.
Throughout the world, people saw the National Guard surface again during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
A new survey by the think tank Data for Progress found that 54 percent of Americans favoured District statehood.
House | Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @njtimesofficial. To get latest updates