What are Democrats waiting for on DC statehood?

What are Democrats waiting  for on DC statehood?
© Michelle Kinsey Bruns/flickr

On Jan. 24, 2013, Sen. Tom CarperTom CarperDems introduce MAR-A-LAGO Act to publish visitor logs Making water infrastructure a priority Overnight Energy: Ethanol groups prep for fight over mandate MORE (D) of Delaware introduced a bill that would make Washington, D.C., the 51st state.

More than year later and nothing has happened! This is very difficult to understand.

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Carper has the distinct advantage of being chairman of the committee where the bill goes for consideration, Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

At last year’s dedication ceremony for the placing of the D.C. Frederick Douglass statue on Capitol Hill, his office said hearings would be held in the fall of 2013. No hearing has yet occurred.

The last time the issue of D.C. statehood had any visibility or movement at all was 21 years ago. Democrats controlled both houses, and then-President Clinton had come out for D.C. statehood as a candidate. There was a vote in the House in November 1993, but it fell short with only 153 votes.

In the Senate, the bill went nowhere.

There was a hearing held in the spring of 1994. It was a charade. Titled “Informational Hearing,” it was a lame cosmetic attempt to do something to satisfy statehood advocates. Because this was not a hearing on the statehood bill itself, it is no surprise the bill died.

More than two decades later, things are quite different.

First and foremost, Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThis obscure Senate rule could let VP Mike Pence fully repeal ObamaCare once and for all Sharron Angle to challenge GOP rep in Nevada Fox's Watters asks Trump whom he would fire: Baldwin, Schumer or Zucker MORE (D-Nev.) is a strong and fervent supporter. (In 1993, then-Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, said or did nothing on the issue.)

At the Frederick Douglass statue ceremony, Reid used the occasion to sign onto the bill as a co-sponsor. With great enthusiasm and conviction — looking straight at Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerObamaCare gets new lease on life Ryan picks party over country by pushing healthcare bill The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ohio) and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellThe Memo: Winners and losers from the battle over health care GOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Under pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support MORE (Ky.) — he said the citizens of D.C. “deserve the same rights as those of Ohio and Kentucky.”

All lawmakers in the Senate Democratic leadership, with the exception of Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerWarren: 'Today is a great day... but I'm not doing a touchdown dance' Schumer calls Trump admin 'incompetent' after healthcare bill pulled Trump blames Democrats for ObamaCare defeat MORE (N.Y.), are co-sponsors of the bill. Members of Carper’s committee who will vote for the bill are Sens. Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Five unanswered questions after Trump's upset victory Pavlich: O’Keefe a true journalist MORE (D-La.) and Mark BegichMark BegichPerez creates advisory team for DNC transition The future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE (D-Alaska). Both are huge GOP targets this election year.

The others, Democratic Sens. Carl LevinCarl LevinDevin Nunes has jeopardized the oversight role of Congress Ted Cruz wants to destroy the Senate as we know it A package proposal for repatriation MORE (Mich.), Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillUnder pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support Overnight Defense: General warns State Department cuts would hurt military | Bergdahl lawyers appeal Trump motion | Senators demand action after nude photo scandal The Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee MORE (Mo.), Jon TesterJon TesterUnder pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support The Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief urges Congress to approve budget boost | Senate fight over NATO addition MORE (Mont.), Tammy BaldwinTammy BaldwinOvernight Finance: Senators spar over Wall Street at SEC pick's hearing | New CBO score for ObamaCare bill | Agency signs off on Trump DC hotel lease The Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Dem senator to reintroduce ‘buy American’ legislation MORE (Wis.), Mark PryorMark PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (Ark.) and Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampUnder pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support Overnight Finance: Senators spar over Wall Street at SEC pick's hearing | New CBO score for ObamaCare bill | Agency signs off on Trump DC hotel lease The Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee MORE (N.D.), have not taken a position or have not responded to inquiries.

It is understandable that Carper would not hold hearings unless he has the Democratic votes to report the bill out. But the legitimate question is: Is he talking to these undecided or uncommitted senators? Is he lobbying for his own bill so that it will move?

When I last asked Reid if he would bring the bill up for a vote if it comes favorably out of committee, he said, “We will make it happen.”

One major problem is D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). She should be talking to and lobbying uncommitted senators on the committee. Maybe she doesn’t want D.C. to actually become a state.

If it were to become a state, her safe seat would no longer be safe. Someone else might seek it, and Norton would become vulnerable.

I have no illusions about the Republican-controlled House bringing up the bill. But it also doesn’t help when Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), the head of the Democratic National Committee, is not championing the legislation.

Last year when I pressed her, she said D.C. voting rights are “not a national issue.”

The bottom line is that a vote in the Senate would dramatically raise the visibility.

A vote in the Senate should be the goal. It is doable and could and should be done this year. The only ones who are holding D.C. back are not our enemies, but our friends.

 

Plotkin has worked as a political analyst for WAMU radio, WTOP radio and Fox 5 WTTG. He is presently a contributor to the BBC on American politics.