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Manchin opposes D.C. statehood, dealing a blow to Democratic priority

President Biden has endorsed the measure, but with the Senate split 50-50 and no Republican support, Democrats can't afford any defections.
Image: Joe Manchin
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., at the Capitol on April 29, 2021.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Sen. Joe Manchin, the moderate Democrat from West Virginia, said in an interview Friday that he opposes legislation to give Washington, D.C., statehood — effectively killing a Democratic-led effort to reshape the American political map.

"If Congress wants to make D.C. a state, it should propose a constitutional amendment and let the people of America vote," Manchin told WV MetroNews Talkline, a West Virginia news outlet.

Asked directly if he would oppose unilateral action by Congress to make the district a state, Manchin replied, "Yes, I would."

Stasha Rhodes, the campaign director for the pro-D.C.-statehood group 51 for 51, said in response that Manchin’s state came about by legislation. "It is how West Virginia was admitted in 1863, how Hawaii was admitted in 1959, and how D.C. will be admitted in 2021,” she said. “No member of the Senate should deny voting rights to 700,000 mostly Black and brown Washingtonians based on a flimsy understanding of the Constitution and American history.”

The Democratic-controlled House narrowly passed a bill last week, 216-208, along party lines, that would make the nation’s capital the 51st state. President Joe Biden has endorsed the measure, but Democrats have a 50-50 majority in the Senate and lack Republican support, meaning they cannot afford any defections in order to pass it in the current Congress.

In addition to unifying their caucus, passing the bill would also require the abolition of the filibuster. Manchin sided with legal scholars who say that D.C. statehood would require a change to the Constitution. However, other experts believe Congress can get around that by remaking a part of the District of Columbia, where the White House and Capitol are located, the "seat of the Government of the United States," as the Constitution says, and let the rest of the city of 700,000 become a state.

The legislation that passed the House proposes that by creating a 51st state with one representative and two senators, while a tiny sliver of land including the White House, the U.S. Capitol and the National Mall would remain as a federal district. Instead of the District of Columbia, the new state would be known as Washington, Douglass Commonwealth — named after famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who lived in Washington from 1877 until his death in 1895.

An identical statehood bill passed the House in 2020, but it died in the then-GOP-controlled Senate.

Manchin noted that even if Congress were to pass a statehood bill and have it signed into law, "you know it's going to go to the Supreme Court."