House approves bill to make DC a state

The House, in a party-line vote on Thursday, approved legislation to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state in the nation, sending the bill to the Senate.

It’s the second time the House has approved such legislation in two years, but the statehood bill, long a goal for the nation’s capital, faces an uphill climb in a Senate evenly divided between the two parties.

Winning a vote in the Senate would likely require ending the filibuster that requires most legislation to clear a 60-vote hurdle. Even then, not all 50 Democrats in the Senate back making D.C. a state.

The 216-208 House vote on H.R. 51, named to reflect that D.C. would become the nation’s 51st state, comes as Democrats have stepped up their efforts on a series of measures aimed at racial justice. 

For decades, D.C. was a majority Black city; today, its population is just under 50 percent Black. 

The White House on Tuesday formally declared its support for the legislation, saying it would provide the residents of the District with “long overdue full representation in Congress.”

Republicans have opposed giving D.C. statehood, in part because it would likely lead to two more Democratic senators and a Democratic House member, given the district population’s political leanings. President Biden won the District’s three electoral votes in last year’s election with 92 percent of the vote.

They have also offered other arguments against statehood, stating the founders didn’t intend for the city to be a state, or that it would be better for Washington to become part of an existing state such as Maryland. One Republican lawmaker said D.C. should not be a state because it has no car dealerships. The District actually has a number of dealerships.

Washington, D.C., has three electoral votes, but its House delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), cannot vote on legislation.

Norton and House Democratic leadership have repeatedly pushed back against GOP criticism of the bill, saying that the political leaning of the District is irrelevant when it comes to making sure all Americans are fairly represented in Congress.

She and other advocates have pointed out that the District pays more federal taxes per capita than any state in the country and more than over 20 states overall. Its population — just over 700,000 — is greater than that of Vermont and Wyoming and comparable to a couple other states. 

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. 

H.R. 51 also includes a provision that would fast-track the repeal of the 23rd Amendment, which currently gives D.C. electoral votes in presidential elections.

The legislation is one of many bills that passed through the House last session but never saw any airtime in the Republican-controlled Senate.

While Democrats have a slim, tie-breaking advantage in the now-50-50 upper chamber, major roadblocks to D.C. statehood remain, most notably the filibuster.

The procedural rule stands in the way of many Democratic legislative priorities, and chances of it being revoked are unlikely given staunch opposition from centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

Even if Democrats were somehow able to dissolve the filibuster, the bill would need stamps of approval from Manchin and other moderates to get the 50 votes needed to force Vice President Harris’s tie-breaking vote.

That said, one thing that does help H.R. 51’s prospects is the considerable support it’s received from Biden.

“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 White House stated in its official endorsement of the cause. “Establishing the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth as the 51st state will make our Union stronger and more just.”

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 saw the National Guard issue surface again during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

A recent poll from think tank Data for Progress showed that 54 percent of Americans supported statehood for the District.

Tags DC statehood Eleanor Holmes Norton Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema

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