In the coming days, the House will vote on, and likely pass, H.R. 51, a bill that would make Washington, D.C., the fifty-first state. The bill, which has two hundred co-sponsors, was introduced by Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who for nearly thirty years has served as the non-voting representative for D.C.’s single at-large district. During her time in Congress, Holmes Norton has introduced more than a dozen statehood bills; this will be the first since 1993 to receive a vote. But because Washington, D.C., is not a state, Holmes Norton cannot vote on her own bill, or on final passage of other legislation on the House floor.
In the Senate, a companion piece of legislation, introduced by Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, has twenty-eight co-sponsors, including all of that chamber’s candidates for President: Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. A few weeks ago, I asked Warren about her interest in statehood and why she thinks the issue should galvanize Democrats. “It matters,” she said. “Here’s an example. In 2017, when Republicans tried to rip away health care from millions of Americans, including tens of thousands of people in D.C., Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton didn’t have a vote. This is not right. The right to vote is at the heart of our democracy.”
Warren noted, too, that Congress has authority to overturn the district’s laws, which Republicans have exercised more boldly in recent years. “A Republican-led Congress has actually overturned laws that the people of the District of Columbia have determined through the democratic process that they want,” she said, noting that Congress has effectively blocked laws on domestic partnerships, providing abortion services, and legalizing medical marijuana. Warren added, “It’s not simply that American citizens aren’t getting representation. They’re actually being rolled over by a Republican-led Congress that wants to make their own decisions about how the people of D.C. should live.”
The Republican argument against statehood for D.C. goes something like this: “You’ll be granting it to a tiny piece of land and they’ll get two senators for a small population.” Except there are more people in D.C. (702,445 as of 2018) than there are in Wyoming (579,315 as of 2017) or Vermont (626,299), and they have two senators. Their real complaint is that the population of D.C. is 49% African-American, which they assume means they’re all Democrats, or worse, government employees. And why should either of those groups have the right to be fully represented in Congress, huh?
The District is under the thumb of Congress, which can overrule any laws passed by the city council, basically relegating it to the same situation the colonies of North America faced in 1776. Even in times of Democratic rule in the White House and Congress the move has been stalled more by a sense of entitlement and power than fairness to the citizens. The District has made their feelings known even to the point of putting it on the license plates.
Adding another star to the flag would be an improvement.
Next up: Puerto Rico.