WASHINGTON (WJLA) - In a historic vote, the House of Representatives has passed H.R. 51, a measure to make D.C. the 51st state Friday. The GOP-led Senate staunchly opposes the bill.
The announcement that the House had enough co-sponsors to pass the bill for the first time came at a press conference last week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson were in attendance.
This is the first time in history that either chamber has advanced such a bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes statehood and has vowed that it won't get a vote in the Senate while he's the leader.
D.C.‘s population is larger than those of Wyoming and Vermont, and the new state would be one of seven with populations under one million, says Norton, who is currently serving her fifteenth term as D.C.'s non-voting delegate. Washington D.C.‘s $15.5 billion annual budget is larger than those of 12 states, and D.C.’s triple-A bond rating is higher than those of 35 states.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., blasted the bill ahead of the House vote. In a Senate speech, he dismissed Washington, D.C., as a city with little more to offer than lobbyists and federal workers.
“Yes, Wyoming is smaller than Washington by population, but it has three times as many workers in mining, logging and construction, and 10 times as many workers in manufacturing,” Cotton said. “In other words, Wyoming is a well-rounded working-class state.”
Cotton also criticized Democrats for prioritizing the D.C. statehood vote while there is “mob violence” in the streets. Recent protests near the White House required “force by federal law enforcement officers under federal control,” he said.
“Would you trust Mayor Bowser to keep Washington safe if she were given the powers of a governor? Would you trust Marion Barry?” Cotton added referring to D.C.’s current and former mayors, both Black.
Cotton's remarks stirred outrage on social media, with many describing the remarks as racist. D.C. has a large African American population and was once known as "Chocolate City,'' although it is no longer majority Black.
Norton said the issue is deeply personal for her and thousands of other city residents who have long been disenfranchised. Her great-grandfather Richard Holmes escaped slavery at a Virginia plantation and “made it as far as D.C., a walk to freedom but not to equal citizenship,'' she said. ”For three generations my family has been denied the rights other Americans take for granted.''
Congress has two choices, she added. “It can continue to exercise undemocratic, autocratic authority over the 705,000 American citizens, treating them, in the words of Frederick Douglass, as ‘aliens, not citizens, but subjects.' Or Congress can live up to this nation’s promise and ideals, end taxation without representation and pass” the statehood bill.
Statehood has been discussed frequently by local D.C. lawmakers in recent weeks, most notably when the president deployed military force in the city during racial justice protests.
“There shouldn’t be troops from other states in Washington, D.C.,” said Bowser. “There shouldn’t be federal forces advancing against Americans, and there very definitely shouldn’t be soldiers stationed around our city waiting for the go to attack Americans in a local policing matter.”
Trump said last month that “D.C. will never be a state” because it would likely mean two more Democratic senators. “No, thank you. That’ll never happen,” he said.
But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the rights of D.C. residents should transcend political calculations.
“We are the only free country in the world, from all our research, that doesn’t have a voting member of their parliament in their country. We call our parliament ‘Congress,'” Hoyer said at a news conference Thursday.
Recent events have focused national attention on the city's plight. Earlier this year, when Congress passed the CARES Act stimulus package, the capital was classified as a territory rather than a state — a distinction that cost Washington more than $700 million in federal funding.
All District laws are subject to review by a congressional committee, which can veto them or alter them by attaching riders to federal appropriations bills. During GOP control of Congress, conservatives have sought, mostly unsuccessfully, to restrict some of the city’s liberal initiatives such as needle exchanges for drug users and abortions under its Medicaid program.