Partisan Divides Over D.C. Statehood on Display at House Hearing
Do you support or oppose statehood for the District of Columbia?
by Causes | 3.26.21
What’s the story?
- The House Oversight and Reform Committee on Monday held a hearing regarding Democrats’ legislation to make the District of Columbia the 51st state, and it underscored that the partisan divides on the issue have not narrowed since the House considered the bill's predecessor last year.
- During the previous Congress In June 2020, House Democrats passed H.R. 51 on a party-line vote of 232-180 with no Republicans voting in favor and one Democrat opposed. It’s unclear when the D.C. statehood bill will reach the floor in the current Congress, but another partisan vote appears likely based on the tenor of the hearing.
- The District of Columbia’s non-voting delegate to Congress, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), contended that “despite many questions from Republican members seeking to undermine the constitutionality of the bill and the readiness of D.C. for statehood”, the hearing will raise the profile of the issue and lead to greater support like the process in the last Congress did:
“The last hearing had the important effect of informing Americans about the lack of rights of the people who live in their own nation’s capital. I can only predict that public support for D.C. statehood, which we saw increase to 54% after the House hearing, markup and passage of the bill last Congress, will continue to grow after today’s hearing.”
- Republicans argued that a constitutional amendment would be required to make D.C. because it was established by the Constitution out of land ceded by the states of Maryland and Virginia, and Congress was given lawmaking power over the District. They also noted the Justice Dept. determined under both Democratic and Republican administrations that D.C. statehood requires a constitutional amendment. Ranking Member James Comer (R-KY) called this effort a power grab by Democrats:
“If Democrats were serious about making D.C. a state, they would introduce a constitutional amendment like the U.S. Constitution implies must happen in not one, but two places. But Democrats are not serious. Instead, they’re setting aside the Constitution in order to give progressives a quick win so they can achieve their goals of defunding the police and enacting a Green New Deal. There is zero chance this bill would pass judicial review.”
- GOP lawmakers also noted that the amendment process would be required to repeal the 23rd Amendment, which gives D.C. residents three votes in the Electoral College. They noted that without resolving issues surrounding the 23rd Amendment, the few remaining residents in the enclave of federal property created by H.R. 51 ― a group likely limited to the president and their family ― would serve as electors and cast votes in the Electoral College.
- Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser testified, “The simple fact is, denying American citizens a vote in the body that taxes them goes against the founding principles of this great nation. The disenfranchisement of Washingtonians is one of the remaining glaring civil rights issues of our time.” She also asked rhetorically whether racial animus is motivating opposition to D.C. statehood:
“Historic records are replete with statements of successive members of Congress referencing the “negro problem” and the “color problem” within D.C. as a justification to withhold congressional representation. This was their way of saying that African Americans are unable to govern themselves, or vote for their best interests, and should therefore be denied political power and suffrage. So, does this body still believe that to be the case?”
What’s next for the bill?
- With the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s informational hearing wrapped up, the next step will be to hold a markup hearing to advance the bill to the full House.
- It’s unclear when a floor vote in the House will occur, although House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) indicated a vote will occur “in the near future.”
- Democrats will face a narrower margin in passing the bill through the House in the current Congress given that they lost 13 seats in the recent election and no GOP lawmakers are expected to vote in favor. Democrats currently hold a 219-211 majority, so they can only lose three votes for the bill to pass.
- Passage of H.R. 51 would be even tougher in the 50-50 Senate, as 60 votes would be required to overcome the legislative filibuster and it’s unlikely 10 Republican senators would vote to allow the bill to proceed. Democrats currently lack the votes to eliminate the legislative filibuster and pass the bill on a simple majority vote.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / Amy Sparwasser)
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