Senate dives into DC statehood debate in second hearing

Senate dives into DC statehood debate in second hearing
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The Senate, for only the second time in its long history, took up the issue of statehood for Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, with a hearing where arguments for and against the country's potential 51st state were passionately aired.

Held by the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the hearing comes as support publicly and politically for D.C. statehood is at an all-time high.

Recent polling has shown that national approval on the measure is hovering just above 50 percent and in April the White House formally threw its support behind D.C. statehood with a statement of administration policy, a first.

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“The country was founded on the principles of no taxation without representation and consent of the government,” District House Del. Eleanor Holmes NortonEleanor Holmes NortonDuckworth, Pressley introduce bill to provide paid family leave for those who experience miscarriage Congress must step up to fund the Howard University Hospital renovation Activists see momentum as three new states legalize marijuana MORE (D) told the panel in introductory remarks.

“D.C. residents are taxed without representation, and cannot consent to the laws under which they as American citizens must live,” she said. 

A third-generation Washingtonian and one of the longest-tenured members of the House, Norton is one of the original champions of the cause.

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who was one of the first senators to join Norton’s efforts, and D.C. Mayor Muriel BowserMuriel BowserTwo shot outside of popular restaurants in DC, police still searching for suspects The Hill's Morning Report - Surging COVID-19 infections loom over US, Olympics DC mayor, Nationals issue joint statement against gun violence MORE (D) were also present to voice their support.

H.R. 51, which would establish much of the nation’s capital as the 51st state in the Union, has passed the House twice in as many years, though has struggled to gain traction in the evenly split upper chamber.

Proponents like Norton and Bowser have been constant in their reasoning behind the push for statehood for the District.

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Not only do D.C. residents lack a vote in both chambers of Congress — taxation without representation — but per capita, Washington also pays more federal income tax than any state and more taxes overall than nearly two dozen of them.

With roughly 700,000 residents, D.C. is more populous than two states and comparable to a handful more.

Another pivotal technicality that was brought to the nation’s attention in the past year is the fact that D.C. doesn’t have control over its National Guard.

This became apparent during last summer’s protest over the police murder of George Floyd and again during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Additionally, D.C. was initially shorted more than $700 million in COVID-19 relief aid at the beginning of the pandemic because lawmakers labeled D.C. as a territory instead of a state.

“There is no legal or constitutional barrier to D.C. statehood,” Bowser testified. “The prevailing constitutional issue is a civil rights violation of 700,000 D.C. residents who fulfill all obligations of United States citizenship, but are denied any representation in this body.”

The mechanics of H.R. 51 are novel.

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 — Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.

People residing inside the revised 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.

However, Republicans view the proposal as a blatant Democratic power grab, saying that D.C.’s liberal tilt will all but guarantee two additional Democrat senators.

Attacks on the proposal have been varied, with GOP lawmakers choosing to either scrutinize the constitutionality of H.R. 51 — insisting that D.C. can only become a state through a constitutional amendment — or present arguments that poke at D.C.'s unique standing as a hybrid city-state.

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordAbbott slams Ben & Jerry's for Palestine support: 'Disgraceful' Democrat stalls Biden's border nominee Republican calls on Oklahoma to ban Ben & Jerry's MORE (R-Okla.) during the hearing argued that people know what they’re getting into when they move to the District.

"Any individual that moves to Washington D.C., understands that Washington, D.C., is unique. This is a place where you don't have a vote for a senator or a House member," Lankford said, acknowledging that D.C. does have a non-voting member of the House in Norton.

"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. "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."

Democrats have bristled at the nonconstitutional arguments, painting them as thinly veiled racism.

For decades, the District was predominantly Black. Today, D.C.’s population is more than 45 percent Black and remains a majority-minority city.

Progressives and civil rights advocates have increasingly framed D.C. statehood as a racial justice issue.

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Lieberman, in his remarks to the committee, described GOP dissent as “excuses for something that is inexcusable.”

At the moment, unified Republican opposition is enough to keep H.R. 51 from reaching President BidenJoe BidenTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Republicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change Biden on hecklers: 'This is not a Trump rally. Let 'em holler' MORE’s desk.

Without bipartisan support, the bill can’t clear the 60-vote threshold of the Senate filibuster, a problem many of Democrats’ legislative priorities face.

Moderate Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinWhy Biden's Interior Department isn't shutting down oil and gas Overnight Energy: Senate panel advances controversial public lands nominee | Nevada Democrat introduces bill requiring feds to develop fire management plan | NJ requiring public water systems to replace lead pipes in 10 years Transit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaBipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor CBC honors Black women advocates amid voting rights battle GOP blocks infrastructure debate as negotiators near deal MORE (D-Ariz.) are against axing the procedural rule, and even if the filibuster were somehow done away with, Manchin has also said that he’s against H.R. 51, concurring with Republicans that a constitutional amendment is needed to make D.C. a state.