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Despite GOP Delays, Statehood Bill Moves Forward

Norton Says Floor Vote Will Take Place by Year's End

The House Oversight and Reform Committee, by a party-line vote, approved a bill making the District of Columbia the 51st state of the union, thereby setting up a vote on the House floor and statehood advocates weighing prospects in the U.S. Senate.

Despite Republicans on the oversight committee offering a number of amendments, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s bill on D.C. statehood got through, 21-16, at the markup on Feb. 11. GOP lawmakers offered amendments on such matters in the proposed state as regulating its abortion laws and gun laws, defining its boundaries, its status as a sanctuary jurisdiction and whether the mayor of the District could be considered a governor.

The amendments went down in defeat, with Norton, committee Chair Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) defending the city’s right to self-determination without the interference of the U.S. Congress.

Norton expressed elation at the passing of her bill.

“For such a historic achievement for the District of Columbia, the only message I can convey is gratitude,” she said. “Thank you, Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney for your extraordinarily skillful and patient leadership, always with fairness to both sides. Thank you, Majority Leader [Rep.] Steny Hoyer [D-Md.], who appeared at an earlier press conference with Maloney and me, for your longtime leadership on statehood, democracy and legislation for the District.

“Thank you to our more than 220 co-sponsors and committee members who stood with the disenfranchised people of the District today,” Norton said. “Above all, thank you District residents for turning out in large numbers once again to demand equality in the Congress. We have only one last hill to climb — onward to the House floor.”

D.C. Residents Hit the Hill

A large contingent of people waited in line outside Room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill to get a seat in the hearing room to witness the markup. Those who couldn’t get in Room 2154 had the option of going to two overflow rooms in Rayburn to view the hearing on a large screen.

Large numbers of people aren’t new for statehood hearings. On Sept. 19, the committee held a hearing on Norton’s bill and statehood supporters filled the hearing room, two overflow rooms and a park outside the Rayburn building to watch the proceedings on a large screen.

On Feb. 11, House staffers opened up Room 2154 and those who could filed into the three rows of chairs available to the public. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) came in the room and sat on the front row with members of her executive team.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and council members Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Robert White (D-At Large), Trayon White (D-Ward 8), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) and Anita Bonds (D-At Large) sat in the front and second rows to observe the hearing. District Shadow Sens. Michael Brown (D) and Paul Strauss (D) and shadow Rep. Franklin Garcia (D) sat on the front row, also.

Brown was pleased with the turnout.

“This is a historic day,” he said. “We are here to show the House that we want statehood. We want to be the 51st state.”

Veterans made up a number of supporters at the markup. Norton said the 30,000 District veterans not having full political rights as citizens is “unconscionable.”

“They have served their country voluntarily as members of the armed forces, wherever their country chose to send them at risk of their lives,” Norton said. “Unlike the other Americans with whom they served, the veterans who live in the nation’s capital had no voting congressional representation.”

Bowser and members of the council left the hearing after two hours when it became clear that the Republicans intended to offer a number of amendments to Norton’s bill.

“I have heard enough,” Bowser said. “The Republicans’ tactics weren’t a surprise. Congresswoman Norton told us to expect that.”

Next Steps

When asked on Feb. 10, Norton could not give a clear timetable when the vote on her bill will occur.

“The vote will take place by the end of the year,” Norton said.

In the Senate, Tom Carper (D-Del.) has a statehood bill that has 35 co-sponsors. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has come out against D.C. statehood and has publicly said he likely will not schedule Carper’s bill for a vote.

Brown said he has talked with a number of senators and their staff members about statehood. Despite McConnell’s opposition, Brown said he and Strauss will continue to talk to Republicans.

“We talked to Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, and appealed to her as a veteran,” Brown said. “We have also talked to Tim Scott of South Carolina, noting the number of African Americans who are disenfranchised as a result of D.C. not being a state.”

For more coverage on D.C. statehood, go to www.washingtoninformer.com.

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