WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans clashed Monday over the effort to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state, a proposal that has been gaining popularity among Democrats and the public.
Lawmakers on the House Oversight and Reform Committee debated the statehood campaign during a hearing that examined legislation dubbed "the Washington, D.C. Admission Act," which was introduced in late January in the House by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who represents D.C., and in the Senate by Democrat Tom Carper of Delaware.
Democrats argued Monday that Washingtonians are treated as second-class citizens, performing the responsibilities of citizens but not receiving representation in Congress in return. Republicans, by contrast, voiced their staunch opposition to the effort, claiming that the legislation violates the Constitution.
Norton, however, noted that the Constitution's admissions clause gives Congress authority to admit new states, with 37 states being admitted through an act of Congress. The longtime delegate who has pushed for D.C. statehood for years explained that the issue is personal.
“My own family has lived through almost 200 years of change in the District of Columbia, since my great grandfather, Richard Holmes, as a slave, walked away from a plantation in Virginia, and made his way to the district. Today it is my great honor to serve in a city where my father’s family has lived without equal representation for almost two centuries,” she said. “Congress can no longer allow D.C. residents to be sidelined in the democratic process.”
Norton said that D.C. has “never been closer” to statehood until now with Democrats in control of the House, Senate and White House.
Democrats have intensified their push for D.C. statehood since they took control of the Senate this year. The House would likely pass the legislation again, which it did in the last Congress, but it has little chance of clearing the evenly divided Senate given the 60-vote hurdle to overcome a filibuster.
Many GOP lawmakers have expressed opposition to D.C. statehood given that any congressional representation would almost certainly be Democratic.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters ahead of the hearing that the legislation “would give D.C. residents voting representation in the House and two United States Senators, which is to say, they would be deemed to be equal to every other citizen.” Hoyer said that he plans to bring the legislation to the floor “in the near future.”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the committee, called on her colleagues to support the measure and said that it would “fulfill the promise of democracy” for more than 712,000 Americans who live in the city.
“D.C. residents are American citizens. They fight honorably to protect our nation overseas. They pay taxes. In fact, D.C. pays more in federal taxes than 22 states, and more per capita than any state in our nation. D.C. residents have all the responsibilities of citizenship, but they have no congressional voting rights, and only limited self government,” she said. “The sad truth is that most of my Republican colleagues oppose D.C. statehood simply because they believe it would dilute their power.”
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., ranking member on the committee, spoke out against making D.C. a state and said that the bill is “unconstitutional,” arguing that the city is smaller than Columbus, Ohio, and is 90 percent Democratic.
“D.C. statehood is a key part of the radical leftist agenda to reshape America, along with the Green New Deal, defunding the police and packing the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., spent her line of questioning asking about how many Democrats live in D.C., and whether they would elect two Democrats to the Senate if the city became a state.
Foxx said that Democrats are "attempting to use a razor-thin majority that it has to entrench itself in power" and is trying to use D.C. as a "pawn" to gain power.
"The opinions being offered here today by the witnesses that the Democrats had brought show me that there is an attitude of little respect for the Constitution," Foxx said.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said that Foxx "let the cat out of the bag" with her questions, which he called "profoundly inappropriate," because he said Republicans are making the issue about partisanship and political affiliation.
Mayor Muriel Bowser, a vocal proponent of statehood, and Phil Mendelson, chairman of the D.C. Council, were among the witnesses who testified Monday. Both noted that the city is bigger in population than Vermont and Wyoming, pay more in capita than any state and pay more in federal taxes than 22 states. Bowser pointed out that Washington was short changed $755 million in one of the previous Covid-19 relief packages last year because it isn’t considered a state.
Other Republicans argued D.C. should not become a state because its economy is that of a city. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., noted that D.C. doesn't have a manufacturing, agriculture or mining industry.
"I think normally when a congressman or even more a senator, weighs the bills that are up there, they have to address how they will affect manufacturing, agriculture, mining, which is where the wealth of a country comes from. I'm not aware of virtually any of that in your city," said Grothman.
"We do not have any mines, congressman," Bowser replied.
Responding to critics of statehood, Bowser said, “Arguing that Washingtonians must remain disenfranchised to protect the interest of the federal government is dangerous, outdated and downright insulting.”
Statehood opponents, Mendelson said, offer countless arguments against making D.C. a state, but he said, “None of them overcome the basic principle that there should be no taxation without representation.”