CommunityHamil R. Harris

Democrat-Controlled House Sparks New Battle for D.C. Statehood

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is so upbeat about the District’s political fortunes now that her fellow Democrats are in charge of the House of Representatives that she has introduced legislation that would make the District of Columbia the 51st state in the union.

Norton said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi supports the bill to make D.C. the 51st state and there are 155 original co-sponsors of the legislation who include Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the new chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

“The biggest opportunity is the vote on statehood,” Norton told The Informer. “If you have support at the top for a vote on statehood, it seems to me that is the support you need. It is not just the committee chairman.”

In a statement, Pelosi said, “For too long, the residents of the District of Columbia have served our nation in uniform, paid taxes and contributed to the economic power and success of our country while being denied the full enfranchisement that is their right. … H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C., Admission Act, is a critical step in righting this historic wrong.”

Norton said Pelosi has been “one of the District’s greatest friends and allies in Congress,” and now that the Democrats have regained control of the House, she expects a vote on statehood and the restoration of political power in the House, which includes being able to vote on the House floor,

“[Pelosi’s] resounding endorsement of H.R. 51 is the most important step yet in getting a House floor vote on the statehood bill,” Norton said in a statement. “I look forward to working closely with the Speaker in our new Democratic House majority as we move H.R. 51 through the committee process and seek a House floor vote on it.”

Norton sounded a more somber tone as she talked about the chances of the bill passing through the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate and being signed by President Trump.

“After we get that vote, you’ll see me go on a second track,” she said. “Do I expect the Senate to give me a vote on statehood? Not hardly — that is why we have to fill out home rule.”

For District residents, it is the best of times and the worst of times.

Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson joined Norton during a press conference at the Rayburn House Building last week, where both said the plight of District residents and local federal workers is most evident since Trump shut down the federal government. District officials have since had to pick up the tab for trash collection on federal park land and setting up a venue for people to obtain marriage licenses.

“The courts issue marriage licenses and I have introduced emergency legislation to give the mayor to the authority to issue marriage licenses — I expect the council to vote on that this [this week],” Bowser said during the press conference. “We expect the Office of the Secretary will be the keeper of the licenses in the period of time the federal government is unable to do that.

“Obviously I am annoyed by it, but I am proud that our government runs well enough and is balanced enough not to let our city become trash,” she said. “A bigger concern I have is [federal workers] not getting their paychecks. I don’t know about you, but I need my checks. I can’t pay my mortgage. I can’t go with a furlough a little bit but I start getting real anxiety when I think about how am I going to pay my bills. We have had furloughs before, but never in January.”

Mendelson said that when it comes to democracy around the world, the U.S. gets failing grades for its treatment of D.C.

“Why is the United States of America the only democracy on earth where its citizens do not have voting representation in its national legislature?” he said. “They overlook us. … We are one of the best-run jurisdictions in the country. We have to do gymnastics to obtain marriage licenses, we have to pick up trash on the [National Mall].”

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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