What are Democrats waiting for on DC statehood?

Michelle Kinsey Bruns/flickr

On Jan. 24, 2013, Sen. Tom CarperTom CarperWhite House seeks distance from ISIS transcript edit White House: Redaction decision was all Justice Dem senator: CDC already has authority to study guns 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 ReidDems leery of Planned Parenthood cuts spark Senate scuffle Overnight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans Senate passes Puerto Rico debt relief bill 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 BoehnerEXCLUSIVE: Pro-Hillary group takes 0K in banned donations Ryan: Benghazi report shows administration's failures Clinton can't escape Benghazi responsibility MORE (R-Ohio) and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellDems leery of Planned Parenthood cuts spark Senate scuffle Overnight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans Senate passes Puerto Rico debt relief bill 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 SchumerFormer Gillibrand aide wins NY House primary Senate faces critical vote on Puerto Rico Juan Williams: GOP sounds the sirens over Trump MORE (N.Y.), are co-sponsors of the bill. Members of Carper’s committee who will vote for the bill are Sens. Mary LandrieuMary Landrieu oil is changing the world and Washington Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Republican announces bid for Vitter’s seat MORE (D-La.) and Mark BegichMark BegichSenate GOP deeply concerned over Trump effect Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium MORE (D-Alaska). Both are huge GOP targets this election year.

The others, Democratic Sens. Carl LevinCarl LevinFight for taxpayers draws fire Gun debate shows value of the filibuster House won't vote on Navy ship-naming restrictions MORE (Mich.), Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillVA opposes bill aimed at helping vets in mustard gas experiments Blame game begins on Zika funding Overnight Tech: Obama heads back to Silicon Valley | FCC meeting preview | Yahoo bans terror content | Zuckerberg on sit-in live streams MORE (Mo.), Jon TesterJon TesterBernie Sanders’s awkward return to the Senate Senators roll out bipartisan gun proposal Congress should stop government hacking and protect the Fourth Amendment MORE (Mont.), Tammy BaldwinTammy BaldwinOvernight Finance: Wall Street awaits Brexit result | Clinton touts biz support | New threat to Puerto Rico bill? | Dodd, Frank hit back Dem hopeful that Congress will eliminate tax break for investment fund managers Congress should stop government hacking and protect the Fourth Amendment MORE (Wis.), Mark PryorMark PryorEx-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood Ex-Sen. Landrieu joins law and lobby firm MORE (Ark.) and Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampGun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA McConnell quashes Senate effort on guns Senators roll out bipartisan gun proposal 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.