GOP senator on DC statehood: ‘No one is compelled to actually’ live there

GOP Sen. James Lankford (Okla.) on Tuesday vocalized opposition to making Washington, D.C., the 51st state in the union, arguing that the nation’s capital has not had voting representatives in Congress for some time and that “no one’s compelled to actually” live there. 

“Any individual that moves to Washington, D.C., understands that Washington, D.C. is unique,” Lankford said during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday over legislation that seeks to legalize D.C. statehood. 

Lankford argued that D.C. residents should know upon moving to the District that “this is a place where you don’t have a vote for a senator or a House member,” though he acknowledged that D.C. for decades has had a non-voting delegate in the House, a position currently held by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). 

“It’s been well known that when you move to Washington, D.C., at any point, you’re moving to an area that doesn’t have two senators or a House member,” the Oklahoma senator continued. 

Lankford added that D.C. is “literally one-tenth of the size of my hometown of Oklahoma City,” arguing that “people have options to be able to still work and to be able to travel and to be able to move into other areas if they wanted to be able to work in Washington, D.C.” 

“Many people live in Maryland or in Virginia or in West Virginia, and drive in to be able to be here from longer distances,” he said. “But that’s a volitional choice; no one’s compelled to actually be here, knowing that that’s been the situation for more than 200 years.”

The GOP senator’s critiques come amid other Republican opposition to Senate bill 51, with several GOP lawmakers arguing that the move would be a power grab by Democrats to gain House and Senate seats from the overwhelmingly blue area. 

Republicans have also asserted that the move would undermine the U.S. founders’ original purpose in designating the location of the nation’s capital, with Lankford arguing in Tuesday’s hearing, “The founders designed a capital region to never be a state.” 

“That was the design in the Constitution to say, this is uniquely so that the federal government does not exist under the authority of any state, or try to interact with the state,” the Oklahoma senator added. 

However, Democrats who support the bill argued that it would be racist to continue denying Washington, D.C., voting representation in Congress, given the historically Black population in the city. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, D.C.’s population of nearly 700,000 people is just under 50 percent Black, and minority groups make up the majority of the population overall. 

During Tuesday’s hearing, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) defended the push for statehood, arguing that “inaction” by the Senate “could doom yet another generation of young native Washingtonians to being locked out of their constitutionally-given political power and human rights.” 

The bill, a similar version of which was passed by the House in April, faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where it is unlikely to clear the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold without bipartisan support.

Tags D.C. statehood District of Columbia statehood movement Eleanor Holmes Norton James Lankford Muriel Bowser Senate Senate hearing Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Washington, D.C.
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