What are Democrats waiting for on DC statehood?

What are Democrats waiting  for on DC statehood?
© Michelle Kinsey Bruns/flickr

On Jan. 24, 2013, Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperLobbying World Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies Democrats give Warren's 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 Mason ReidHarry Reid: Early voting states Iowa, New Hampshire 'not representative of the country anymore' The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary Bottom Line 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 Andrew BoehnerFormer Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock From learning on his feet to policy director MORE (R-Ohio) and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Fireworks on health care expected at Dem debate | Trump FDA pick dodges on vaping ban | Trump to host meeting on youth vaping Friday | AMA calls for immediate vaping ban GOP senator blocks vote on House-passed Violence Against Women Act On The Money: Senate scraps plan to force second shutdown vote | Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny | McConnell rips House Dems for holding up trade deal 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 (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTensions rise in Senate's legislative 'graveyard' 2020 Republicans accuse Schumer of snubbing legislation Schumer: Leadership trying to work out competing surprise medical bill measures MORE (N.Y.), are co-sponsors of the bill. Members of Carper’s committee who will vote for the bill are Sens. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCongress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ Lobbying world MORE (D-La.) and Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska political mess has legislators divided over meeting place Former GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop Lobbying world MORE (D-Alaska). Both are huge GOP targets this election year.

The others, Democratic Sens. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinRemembering leaders who put country above party Strange bedfellows oppose the filibuster Listen, learn and lead: Congressional newcomers should leave the extremist tactics at home MORE (Mich.), Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMSNBC's McCaskill: Trump used 'his fat thumbs' to try to intimidate Yovanovitch GOP senator rips into Pelosi at Trump rally: 'It must suck to be that dumb' Iranian attacks expose vulnerability of campaign email accounts MORE (Mo.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterTester: Our forefathers would not have tolerated Trump asking Ukraine to investigate Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Fallout from day one of Trump impeachment hearing Veterans face growing threat from online disinformation MORE (Mont.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinIt's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems unveil impeachment measure; Vindman splits GOP The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems shift strategy on impeachment vote MORE (Wis.), Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorTom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas Medicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation MORE (Ark.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states Pence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa 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.