WASHINGTON — Democrats have pushed for generations to make Washington, D.C., the country’s 51st state.
The most recent effort to do that in Congress, submitted in January by non-voting D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, would give full Congressional voting rights to people living in the District, and that means two senators and a voting member of the House of Representatives from an area that happens to be overwhelmingly liberal.
It has over 220 supporters in the House, including its Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-California).
In other words, the bill is the GOP’s worst nightmare.
So on Thursday, when the Democratic House held a hearing — the first in 25 years — on a bill that would grant statehood to D.C., Republicans threw every argument they could against the idea.
D.C.’s elected officials are too corrupt, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said. The city relies too heavily on federal funds. It’s too liberal, and would dilute Republicans’ votes in Congress, the GOP said. Congressional staffers wouldn’t have anywhere to park.
“The District government currently faces serious allegations of misconduct.”
“We cannot ignore the elephant in the room, ladies and gentlemen. The District government currently faces serious allegations of misconduct,” Jordan said, referring to an ongoing federal investigation into the financial dealings of D.C. lawmaker Jack Evans, who used to chair the area’s Metro board.
Evans has been accused of several financial conflicts of interest, and of using his position as Metro chair to benefit a consulting firm he worked for.
“Sadly, the allegations against Mr. Evans are just the latest in a series of local D.C. political scandals,” he said, before adding, "D.C. is simply not yet self-sustainable."
Others, including panelist Roger Pilon of the libertarian think tank Cato Institute, which was co-founded by Charles Koch, said Congress doesn't have the authority to create a state by simple legislation — despite the fact that it did so with every other state in the union, aside from the original 13 colonies.
It’s not a crazy proposition: With over 702,000 residents, the District is bigger in population than Vermont or Wyoming. It has nearly 29,000 resident veterans. And D.C. also pays more per capita in federal taxes than any other state.
Norton, who has represented Washingtonians for nearly 30 years as a non-voting member of Congress, hit back at the idea that only jurisdictions with perfect political records deserve voting rights.
“Nobody has seriously questioned Ohio's fitness to be a state."
"Certainly, officials in Ohio, if I may say so, have been the subject of multiple political scandals for many years,” Norton said, “and nobody has seriously questioned Ohio's fitness to be a state."
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) said it would be “beneath the dignity of this chamber” to deny statehood to D.C. residents because of the actions of a single individual, adding that members of Congress present could examine “all of the politicians in all of our states, to talk about the people who have been prosecuted, removed from office.”
Other Democrats, like Virginia Rep. Gerald Connolly, called Republicans out for their hypocrisy on issues of voting rights. “When they say it’s not about race and partisanship, you can be sure it’s about race and partisanship,” Connolly said.
About half of the District’s population is African-American, and over 90 percent of its population voted for the Democratic candidate in each of the last three presidential elections.
And on Thursday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser tried to make the case that the GOP shouldn’t refuse voting rights to the District just because it’s blue.
“Let’s face it: These are bad-faith arguments by people who really oppose statehood because they think it will mean two Democratic senators,” Bowser said in her opening statement.
“And, yes, it is true that we are more brown and more liberal than some of you, but denying statehood would be unfair no matter who was affected — it would be unfair if we were conservatives from a rural district built around agriculture or an industrial city in the heartland,” she continued.
The comments were a dig to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who has previously dismissed the idea of holding a vote on statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico because the jurisdictions are both liberal.
“They plan to make the District of Columbia a state — that would give them two new Democratic senators — and Puerto Rico a state, that would give them two more new Democratic senators,” McConnell said this summer, adding that Democrats’ support of D.C. statehood is “full-bore socialism.”
While McConnell has promised not to hold a vote on D.C. statehood in the Senate, where close to 30 senators have signed on to a similar initiative, the House is poised to move forward with Norton’s bill.
Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), has said he plans on holding a vote on the legislation this term.
"Not only do we run our government well but we run it better than other states –– and they have statehood,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said Thursday. “Because how well people run their government has nothing to do with whether they should be treated as United States citizens."
Cover: Dozens of supporters and Mayor Bowser along with 51 Veterans kick off DC Statehood Week with 51-Star Flag Salute Along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC on September, 16, 2019. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)