The 51-star flags lining Pennsylvania Avenue aim to bring attention to the District of Columbia's quest to become the 51st state. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
The 51-star flags lining Pennsylvania Avenue aim to bring attention to the District of Columbia's quest to become the 51st state. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

During a tense three-hour hearing on March 22, District leaders and Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee spoke in favor of Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s (D-D.C.) bill H.R 51 [The Washington D.C. Admission Act of 2021] which would make D.C. the 51st state of the Union.

The consideration of Norton’s bill early in the 117th session on Congress reflects the growing attention that the statehood issue has received both locally and nationally.

Monday’s hearing has emerged as the first step toward the House approving the statehood bill which has garnered the support of President Biden but faces significant obstacles in the U.S. Senate.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Norton’s bill will likely appear on the chamber floor before the end of summer.

But among the opposition, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, characterized statehood for the District as a left-wing power grab.

“This is all about two new Senate seats,” he said. “This is a power grab by [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi. D.C. statehood is about eliminating the filibuster in the Senate and stacking the Supreme Court to accomplish a liberal agenda. No Republican in the House and the Senate supports this bill. This is a partisan political grab.”

The hearing, which took place in the Rayburn House Office Building, included many speakers and witnesses weighing-in both sides of the bill. Speakers included: Norton; Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the Committee; D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and several members of her staff; D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson; Interim D.C. Chief Financial Officer Fitzroy Lee; Interim President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Wade Henderson; Harry Wingo, a native Washingtonian and military veteran; and Zack Smith, a legal fellow with the D.C.-based non-profit, conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, Inc.

Because of security issues and coronavirus pandemic restrictions, members of the committee questioned the witnesses virtually. The hearing was streamed live for the public.

Republicans stand firm in their assertion that for the District to become a state, a constitutional amendment must be ratified by a two-thirds majority among the 50 states and Congress.

Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), who at times challenged Bowser, said the District shouldn’t qualify as a state because it lacks a landfill, an airport or a car dealership. He later retracted his statement.

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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