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D.C. Statehood Bills Continue to Progress Through Congress

Legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate supporting the District becoming the 51st state has made strides toward passage recently.

On April 14, the House Oversight and Reform Committee passed D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s bill—The Washington, D.C. Admission Act of 2021—by a 25-19 vote on party lines. The bill passed despite Republican failed attempts to amend it with language, for instance, mandating the District retrocede into Maryland, reimbursing the federal government for the costs of the judiciary and the corrections system and forcing the legislation to settle whether D.C.’s three electoral college votes under the 23rd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution would be nullified if the District achieves statehood.

The bill will be taken up by the full House on April 22 and has the support of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). Hoyer didn’t support Norton’s statehood legislation in 1993, because, he said he didn’t believe that type of bill could pass in the Congress at that time.

“I have always believed that the residents of Washington, D.C. should have voting representation in the Congress, but the votes to pass a statehood bill weren’t there at that time,” Hoyer told the Informer on April 20. “We focused on getting Eleanor Holmes Norton a vote on the House floor and I supported that. There was also the issue of a commuter tax in which the District could financially assess non-District residents who worked in the city, colored the issue. I came to realize the only way D.C. residents could have equal status would be through statehood.”

As expected, President Biden officially endorsed District statehood legislation pending in the Congress on April 20, as he promised to do during the 2020 presidential campaign.

The full House vote on Norton’s bill will be the third time a D.C. statehood bill will be considered. The first time a statehood bill reached the House floor—on Nov. 21, 1993—it failed 277-153. Last year, the second time the bill’s consideration on the House floor, produced a positive vote, 232-180, the first-time legislation of its type passed. Dr. Ravi Perry, a political scientist at Howard University, said Norton’s persistence throughout the years on the issue of statehood and her seniority in a Democratically-led House last year produced the winning vote then and with a Democratic House, Senate and White House in power now, her bill and Sen. Thomas Carper’s (D-Del.) companion legislation will receive serious consideration.

Before the bill proceeds to the House floor, a little process took place. Norton presented her bill April 20 to the Rules Committee to regulate floor action on debate on.

Norton’s bill won approval in the Rules Committee, setting the debate on the bill on the floor.

With the House’s approval in tow, the Senate becomes the focus of statehood supporters. Bo Shuff, the executive director of DC Vote, said the Senate could possibly pass a D.C. statehood bill.

“Right now, we have 44 cosponsors on Carper’s bill, a historic high,” Shuff said. “They are all Democrats even this is a non-partisan issue. We are focusing on Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mark Kelly and Sinema of Arizona and Angus King of Maine, who is an independent. There is another bill, the For the People Act, which may be voted on by suspending the filibuster rules and we hope that will be the case for Carper’s D.C. statehood bill.”

Carper serves as the second-ranking Democrat on the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which will consider his bill. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) serves as the chairman of the committee and cosponsors Carper’s legislation. However, Peters hasn’t set a date for Carper’s legislation as of yet.

No Republicans have voiced support for Carper’s bill, but some have interest in it. Josh Burch, the organizer and educator of the Neighbors United for DC Statehood, has said the GOP’s Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine haven’t ruled out considering it. Nevertheless, 22 Republican attorneys general wrote a letter to President Biden and congressional leaders last week saying it will challenge the District becoming a state in court, saying “it’s enactment would be antithetical to our representative democratic republic and it would constitute an unprecedented aggrandizement of an elite ruling class with unparalleled power and federal access compared to the remaining 50 state of the Union.”

Shuff said Republican opposition has been expected and urges supporters of statehood legislation to get involved in helping the District join the Union.

“Call your friends and family in other states and tell them to contact their senators,” he said. “Tell them to say to their senators that D.C. should be the 51st state.”

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