Five U.S. senators spoke Tuesday on the chamber floor in support of passing a bill to make D.C. the union’s 51st state.
Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.), who authored the Washington D.C. Admission Act of 2021, served as the first of the five lawmakers, all Democrats, on his legislation.
“This is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue but an American issue,” Carper said, standing in front of a sign saying “End Taxation Without Representation.”
The senator said the District has sent veterans to fight and some have died in the nation’s wars but have no voting representation in the Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives.
Carper also noted that, unlike other states or territories, the Senate has to approve the District’s local judges and the city budget, acts that he deemed “unacceptable in the 21st century.” He said the District pays more federal taxes per capita than some states but “have no say how the taxes are spent.”
On April 22, the House passed for the second consecutive year a bill by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton that called for statehood. A hearing in the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Carper’s legislation hasn’t been scheduled yet.
Carper’s legislation has 45 co-sponsors, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who, like Norton, is a District native.
“I am proud to be born in Washington, D.C.,” Booker said. “My mother would often talk about the patriotic feeling she had being a Washingtonian and preparing the city for the March on Washington.”
Booker said the District was shortchanged in last year’s CARES Act, treated as a territory when it should have had state-level consideration in terms of federal funding. He also noted the District is a majority-minority city and that making it a state “is not just a matter of civil rights but [of] rights for people everywhere.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said the District met the constitutional criteria for being a state.
“A state must have sufficient population and a fixed, permanent population,” he said. “The District meets both of those requirements. The District has more people than Wyoming and Vermont. Plus, 86% of the D.C. voters said in a referendum that they wanted to be a state.”
Kaine echoed Booker’s arguments by some of their colleagues about the racial composition of the District. He pointed out even Virginia senators in the past complained about Hawaii’s strong Asian-Pacific Islander and New Mexico’s Indigenous and Mexican American defining presence.
Kaine said the District’s 46% Black population should not be a deterrent to statehood.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said granting the District statehood would give Norton full voting rights in the House. He said District residents pay higher federal taxes than 22 states and like Carper, said Washingtonians should have a voice and vote on how those taxes are spent.
Van Hollen ridiculed Republican arguments that the District can’t be a state because it doesn’t have a landfill, needs more car dealerships, doesn’t have a mining industry and would have an unfair advantage over other states because of its proximity to the federal government. He said denying the District statehood “is selective disenfranchisement.”
“Let us change that today,” Van Hollen said.
Fellow Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin said granting the District statehood would give the U.S. credibility throughout the world.
“We have to self-evaluate where we are,” Cardin said, adding that the U.S. is an outlier because it is the only country that doesn’t allow full voting representation for the citizens of its capital in its national lawmaking body.
“We need to act now at long last and do what is right for the people,” Cardin said. “We need to pass S.51 and promote Democratic values around the world.”