51st StateCommunityDC Statehood

D.C. Leaders Discuss Statehood During Senate Hearing

District leaders testified in front of a Senate committee on June 22, making the case for the city to become the 51st state of the union.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Muriel Bowser spoke before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in support of Sen. Thomas Carper’s (D-Del.) bill granting the District statehood. Former Sen. Joe Lieberman, University of Michigan School of Law scholar Richard Primus and Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League, also testified on behalf of Carper’s statehood legislation.

The hearing is the second time a Senate committee has considered Carper’s statehood legislation, with the first time being in 2014.

On April 22, the House passed Norton’s statehood bill for the second consecutive year. Carper’s companion legislation, S.51, has 45 cosponsors, the most ever. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Homeland Security committee, has signed on as a co-sponsor and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) backs the bill and wants to bring it to the chamber’s floor for a vote. Additionally, President Biden supports D.C. statehood. However, no Republicans are cosponsors of Carper’s bill. GOP senators on the committee and conservative legal scholars argue the District can only become a state through a constitutional amendment and the 23rd Amendment granting the District three votes in the Electoral College would have to be nullified through the state legislative process, not by congressional legislation.

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According to Primus,  the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the right to admit states without any preconditions and in any way it sees fit. Plus, he said, Congress has the power to regulate the 23rd Amendment in a way to avoid scrambling the presidential electoral process.

Norton said 54 percent of Americans polled backed D.C. statehood in a recent poll saying “this is the greatest support for D.C. statehood in the nation’s history.” She urged senators to pass Carper’s bill.

“Congress has a choice,” Norton said. “It can continue to exclude D.C. residents from the democratic process, forcing them to watch from the sidelines as Congress votes on federal and D.C. laws, and to treat them, in the words of Frederick Douglass, as ‘aliens, not citizens but subjects.’ Or it can live up to our nation’s founding principles and pass the D.C. statehood bill.”

Bowser said many of the arguments against D.C. statehood “ranged from preposterous assertions to inaccurate legal claims.”

“Just to cite a couple: in 2019, we were asked about what would happen to the parking spots for congressional staff if the District becomes a state,” the mayor said. “We were at a loss to see the correlation between full democracy for 700,000 American citizens and a few parking spaces. This past March, I was confronted with concerns that the District could not be a state because it does not have a car dealership—even though it does. Statements like these not only discount the civil rights of District residents, they also demonstrate a true lack of understanding of the rapidly growing and thriving businesses, communities and culture that surround the small federal presence.”

Lieberman, the Democratic candidate for vice president in 2000, scoffed at Republican claims the District would send two Democrats to the Senate and a Democratic representative to Congress indefinitely.

“That was said when Alaska and Hawaii came into the union: that Alaska would be Democratic and Hawaii would be Republican,” he said. “That’s not the case now because Alaska has become a Republican state while Hawaii supports Democrats. The political rights of District residents shouldn’t be based on short-range political predictions. Who can predict what will happen five, 50 or 100 years from now?”

Morial said District residents have a right to representation in Congress because they are American citizens. Morial rejected Republican arguments that the District should retrocede into Maryland.

“D.C. is distinct from Maryland and Maryland is distinct from D.C.,” he said. “I have heard of polls that suggest neither people in D.C. or Maryland want retrocession.”

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