House Democrats eye passing DC statehood bill for second time

House Democratic leaders on Wednesday looked ahead to the lower chamber’s vote on Washington, D.C., statehood scheduled for Thursday, as the legislation is poised to make its way to the Senate for a second consecutive session of Congress.

The legislation would make Washington the 51st state. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a press conference Wednesday that he expects all House Democrats to vote in favor of the legislation. 

“It is in our platform as [the] Democratic Party to treat the citizens of the District of Columbia as equal citizens of the United States of America,” Hoyer said.

Hoyer was joined at the briefing by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), D.C.’s House delegate and architect of the bill, H.R. 51. 

With 216 co-sponsors, H.R. 51 is virtually guaranteed to pass.

In the last congressional session, Republicans had control of the Senate, often forcing this bill and others that passed the Democratic-controlled House to languish in the upper chamber. 

Democrats now have a slim majority with Vice President Harris’s tie-breaking vote in a 50-50 Senate, but H.R. 51’s path to President Biden’s desk is still fraught with significant roadblocks. 

Perhaps the largest is the Senate filibuster, which jeopardizes the passage of not only H.R. 51 but several other pieces of legislation that the Biden administration has prioritized. 

Even if the filibuster was axed — an increasingly unlikely scenario given Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) staunch opposition to the move — Democrats would still need Manchin and other moderates including Arizona Sens. Krysten Sinema (D) and Mark Kelly (D) to support the legislation.

Republicans have firmly rejected the idea of D.C. statehood, alleging that H.R. 51 is a blatant power grab by Democrats to shift the balance of political power in the Senate to their favor.

D.C. is overwhelmingly blue, creating the high likelihood that its two senators would also be Democrats.  

Some proponents of H.R. 51 have argued that Republican opposition to D.C. statehood is thinly-veiled racism.

The District used to be a majority Black city. Today, 47 percent of D.C. residents are Black, and the nation’s capital remains a majority minority city.

Democrats have also been quick to point out that D.C. residents lack voting power in Congress despite paying federal taxes.  

The District pays more federal income tax per capita than any state in the country, and overall, more than over 20 states. At over 700,000 residents, D.C. also has a higher population than Vermont and Wyoming.

Holmes Norton (D), a third-generation Washingtonian, is the District’s only representation in Congress. While she can introduce legislation and sit on House committees, she does not have the ability to vote on the floor. 

D.C. statehood has received substantial support from President Biden, with the White House this week releasing its official policy stance on the issue.

“For far too long, the more than 700,000 people of Washington, D.C. have been deprived of full representation in the U.S. Congress. This taxation without representation and denial of self governance is an affront to the democratic values on which our Nation was founded,” the policy memo reads. “Establishing the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth as the 51st state will make our Union stronger and more just.”

H.R. 51 would make most of the District a new state through a novel process. The capital wouldn’t cease to exist, but rather be shrunk to include the National Mall, monuments, White House and other federal buildings. The rest of the city would become the new state. 

The few people residing inside the new federal capital would be able to vote in the state where they previously lived.

Republicans have argued that the bill would violate the 23rd Amendment, which gives D.C. electoral votes in presidential elections.

National support for D.C. statehood has increased over the past year, with the country becoming more aware of the District’s inability to control its own National Guard last summer amid protests over the police killing of George Floyd. D.C.’s National Guard is under federal, rather than local, control.

People across the country also watched the same problem unfold during the Jan. 6 Capitol riots in which the District was also slowed in its response.

In a recent poll from think tank Data for Progress, 54 percent of respondents said they approve of D.C. statehood, a record level of support. 

Tags 50-50 Senate DC statehood Eleanor Holmes Norton Filibuster Joe Biden Joe Manchin Mark Kelly Nancy Pelosi Steny Hoyer

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