IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

D.C. statehood proponents pin their hopes on Democratic-controlled Senate

Proponents of making Washington D.C. the 51st state see promise for the stalled initiative if Democrats win control of the Senate in November.
WASHINGTON,DC-JUNE25: Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks at a press con
Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks at a news conference about the vote on D.C. statehood on Capitol hill on June 25, 2020.Evelyn Hockstein / The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Washington D.C. statehood bill that the Democratic-controlled House passed last week shows no signs of being taken up by the Republican-led Senate, but proponents hope that will change in a matter of months.

In the midst of a recent surge of the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide unrest over racial injustice, President Donald Trump is sinking in polls and could take the Republican majority in the Senate down with him.

“We want to make sure that if this goes into next year we are lined up for a vote on D.C. statehood in the first 100 days of the next administration,” Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

With the Senate Republican majority in question, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer could determine whether there is a 51st state if his party gains control of the chamber.

Asked if a Majority Leader Schumer would make D.C. statehood a priority if Democrats were to win control of the Senate, Schumer's office pointed to his statement released Friday after the House vote: “As one of my top priorities when it comes to voting rights and democracy reform, I will keep working in the Senate to secure statehood, full voting rights and full home rule, for D.C. in this Congress and beyond.”

Josh Burch, a lifelong Washington resident and founder of Neighbors United for DC Statehood, is confident the movement will succeed in a Democratic-led Senate.

I think this has to be a first hundred days priority for any Democratic president and any Democratic majority leader in the Senate. I just don’t see any way around it,” he said.

“I think especially if it is Majority Leader Schumer I think we will have the votes in the U.S. Senate. I don't think it'll be just 51 [votes], I think it will be more than that,” Burch added.

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee who has seen an upswing in recent polls against Trump, has supported D.C. statehood 2015 and reiterated his support when the House bill passed.

“Equal representation and participation matter,” the former vice president tweeted, later adding “DC should be a state, pass it on.”

Burch said he sees the statehood issue could be an issue that could help Biden get other legislation passed down the road.

“Expanding voting rights should be a top hundred day priority, and D.C. statehood needs to be a component of that,” Burch said.

Most Republican senators are wary of the idea, calling it unconstitutional and a power grab by Democrats.

“This is about changing the Constitution in a way to give Democrats more power to enact a radical agenda that will not sell unless they can somehow find ways to get new people into the Senate because we're not buying what they're selling and this idea of transforming the District of Columbia into a separate state is all about political power,” South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday.

Others suggest alternatives to grant D.C. residents the same rights as those that live in states.

“D.C. ought to be made part of a contiguous state and able to vote with that state,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told NBC News.

GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, however, has a unique perspective on the matter being from Alaska — a former territory that was granted statehood in 1959.

“I'm probably one of the few that was actually born in a territory and in my lifetime we fought for statehood, it was something that was driven by the residents and whether we're talking D.C. or Puerto Rico, as long as it's driven by the residents I’d pay attention,” she said.

Burch and other statehood activists have now set their sights on the Senate now that they’ve cleared the hurdle in the House. He said the next step is “rounding up the remaining Democrats in the Senate to figure out how to get them to cosponsor the statehood bill and to figure out for those who aren't why they won't do it”

A handful of Democratic senators have not signed on to statehood, including Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Doug Jones of Alabama, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Angus King of Maine.

Jones told NBC News “I haven't really paid a lot of attention to it to be honest with you. I have been focused on all too many other things. I don’t expect that to come up here for a while. I will take a look at it.”

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, moments after the vote on Friday, said her message to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is “Bye bye, Mitch! We’ve got to take the Senate and get D.C. statehood.”