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D.C. Statehood Advocates Strategize for 117th Congress

Rule Change Grants D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser Access to House Floor

The election of two Democrats from Georgia to the U.S. Senate has sparked the enthusiasm of D.C. statehood advocates as they engage in planning on how they will convince the U.S. Congress to make the District the 51st state.

The opportunity for the passage of D.C. statehood legislation by Congress heightened with the victories of the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, two Georgia Democrats elected to the Senate on Jan. 5. Both men back D.C. statehood and President Biden has indicated his support.

The Georgians’ wins came a day after a rule change Jan. 4 by the U.S. House of Representatives to allow the District’s mayor access to that chamber’s floor, a privilege governor of states and territories possess and abandoning days during the session when bills affecting the District can only be considered. The House also adopted another rule change when it eliminated set-aside days of the session when only bills dealing with the District can be considered. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) thanked U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) for the rule changes.

“With these important rules’ changes, a step toward statehood and equal treatment for the District [has been taken],” Norton said. “I’ve introduced legislation to change the mayor of D.C.’s title to governor and, now the mayor will be able to come to the House floor, just like governors of states and territories. Thank you, Speaker Pelosi and Chairman McGovern, for being champions of D.C. statehood and equality and making these changes. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the 117th Congress.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser expressed appreciation for the House rules changes.

“To paraphrase Dr. King: when any American is denied democracy, our entire nation is denied those voices and votes,” the mayor said on Jan. 6. “But now, we are ready to finally fix this injustice by getting statehood on President Biden’s desk within the first 100 days of the 117th Congress. With our seats at the table, we can help build back better than ever before.”

Bowser made her comments as pro-Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol. She lamented her inability to call up the D.C. National Guard to assist the Capitol Police and said the time for District statehood is now.

While a majority vote in the House is enough to pass a statehood bill, as it did Norton’s “The Washington, D.C. Admissions Act” in June, a measure to create statehood faces high hurdles in the Senate. For a bill of that type to make to the Senate floor, 60 senators are needed for a cloture vote to end any filibuster.

The election of the Georgians splits the Senate evenly between Democrats and Republicans but Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who will be president of the Senate in the 117th Congress, has the option of breaking ties, putting control of the chamber in Dems’ hands.

While most Senate Republicans oppose D.C. statehood because they believe the District would send two Democrats to the chamber, Josh Burch, the founder of Neighbors United for D.C. Statehood, said GOP senators such as Tim Scott of South Carolina, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Rob Portman of Ohio are open to persuasion on the issue. A local organization, 51 for 51, has been working to convince Senate leaders to allow District statehood legislation to pass the chamber without the need of a cloture vote.

The District-based organization 51 for 51 wants to see Senate rules changed to prevent a filibuster of D.C. statehood legislation by having the measure pass by 51 votes.

“Just two years ago, the Senate changed its rules so only 51 votes are needed to confirm Supreme Court justices,” a statement on the organization’s website said. “If 51 votes are enough to confirm a Supreme Court justice, it should be enough to make D.C. the 51st state and give D.C. residents the same rights as all other Americans.”

Bo Shuff, the executive director of DC Vote, an organization supporting “full and equal representation for D.C. residents”, said everyday Washingtonians can play a key role in statehood legislation passing.

“Washingtonians can call their family and friends in other states to teach them about what statehood means,” Shuff said. “We also want to keep the energy in the city up about statehood. We are glad to have Democrats controlling both chambers of the Congress and Biden’s support but it will be a long fight. We have to keep working.”

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