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Capitol riots renew calls for D.C. to become 51st state

Under law, the federal government controls the D.C. National Guard — meaning Mayor Muriel Bowser had no say as she watched her city get torn apart.
Image: Washington DC Tense After U.S. Capitol Is Stormed By Protestors
DC National Guard guardsmen stand outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 7, 2021.John Moore / Getty Images

The aftermath of the violence on Wednesday as police lost control of the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol renewed calls for Washington, D.C., to become the 51st state.

“We must get statehood on the president’s desk within the first 100 days of the 117th Congress,” Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said on Thursday. “Congress must immediately transfer command of the District of Columbia National Guard from the president of the United States and put it squarely under the command and control of the District of Columbia.”

It took hours for National Guard to be deployed as lawmakers, staff and reporters took cover from pro-Trump rioters storming the halls of Congress who were being met with little resistance from outnumbered Capitol officers.

Under law, the federal government controls the D.C. National Guard — meaning Bowser had no say over the matter as she watched her city get torn apart. Over the summer during the Black Lives Matter protests, President Trump promptly deployed National Guard and other federal protective services to counter largely-peaceful demonstrators.

Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate view Wednesday’s violent events as even more reason to push for autonomy.

“The mayor should not be reliant on the president to deploy the National Guard to protect public safety in D.C., and D.C. should never have to worry that a president will take over its police force and use it how he or she sees fit,” Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said.

Image: Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser
Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks at press conference in Washington, DC on Jan. 7, 2020.John McDonnell / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Over the summer, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer brought D.C. Statehood to the House floor for a vote, where it passed along party lines for the first time in history. The Maryland Congressman has long advocated for representation for DC citizens, and after the Capitol came under siege, he is renewing his promise to make it a priority for the 117th Congress.

“The events of Wednesday and the unprecedented assault on the Capitol building and the city further illustrates the critical need to grant statehood to the District of Columbia,” Hoyer told NBC News in a statement. “I’ll work closely with Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton to bring legislation to the House Floor early in the 117th Congress to grant statehood to DC residents.”

But the attack on Washington, which President-elect joe Biden called domestic terrorism, didn’t change the minds of those who have been against statehood for D.C. for political reasons. Republican Senator Tom Cotton took to Twitter to criticize the movement, calling it “a terrible, unconstitutional idea before the mob violence” and “still a terrible, unconstitutional idea today.”

A majority of Republicans say statehood would guarantee two additional Democrats in the Senate, and Senate Majority Leader McConnell has refused to put the legislation on the Senate floor.

But in just a few weeks, it won’t be up to Senate Republicans anymore. With newly elected Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock securing the Senate for Democrats on Tuesday, D.C. statehood has a real chance at becoming law.

Statehood always hinged on democratic control of the Senate. Presumptive Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, has promised to put the proposal on the Senate floor for a vote in the past.

“It is past time to end the historic disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens and make D.C. a state,” Schumer said in a statement. “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.”

And there are positive indications that the legislation would become law — Biden in June tweeted, “DC should be a state. Pass it on.”

Josh Burch, a lifelong Washington resident and founder of Neighbors United for DC Statehood, thinks their cause will finally see the light of day in the senate as a result of the Georgia runoffs.

“I know a lot of district residents gave money, wrote postcards, made phone calls and sent text messages," he said. "We felt these two Senate races were about our future, too, not just the future of the people of Georgia.”

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With both chambers of Congress and the White House under Democratic control Burch says the time is now for statehood and for Democrats not to prioritize its passage would be a betrayal.

“It would be an epic moral failing and political idiocy. But more importantly, it would be a moral failing to turn their back on us, when they have the majority.”

There are at least 46 known supporters currently in the U.S. Senate while Democrats Sinema, Manchin, Kelly and King have yet to make their positions known.

While most Republicans in Congress vehemently oppose the notion, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, 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 told NBC News this summer after the House passed the legislation.

In terms of policy, Burch emphasizes issues like racial justice and police brutality, which emerged as key issues this summer after the murder of George Floyd, would be a priority for Washington residents as well as the need for a champion for climate change.

“Locally the district has some of the best climate change policy on its books of any jurisdiction in the country. And so, would we have two more champions for climate change policy in the US Senate? I would hope so.”

And what would statehood mean for the city's residents?

“It would finally make us whole Americans. We are Americans with the asterisk. We're American in name only but not necessarily in equal status," Burch said. "And so it would finally make us whole Americans.”