The Democrat-controlled House on Thursday approved a bill calling for the District to be the 51st state of the union, sending it to a bipartisan Senate where a much thornier fight awaits.
The Washington, D.C. Admission Act, introduced by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, passed in the House on a party-line vote of 216 to 208.
“Today’s victory was historic, both for D.C. residents and for the cause of statehood,” Norton said Thursday. “For only the second time in history, the House passed the D.C. statehood bill. With Democrats in control of the Senate and the White House and with 54% of Americans supporting the bill, we have never been in a better position to achieve D.C. statehood.”
The bill was approved for the second time in as many years, but wasn’t given a vote last year in the then-GOP-controlled Senate.
The Senate is now split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote, but the bill needs 60 votes to avoid a legislative filibuster that would effectively nix the legislation.
Republican lawmakers in opposition to Norton’s bill argue that a constitutional amendment must be passed for the District to become a state and the city must retrocede into Maryland for Washingtonians to have voting rights in the Congress. Democrats countered that Congress has the power to make the District a state through the Constitution’s Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser feted the House and put the struggle for statehood in a broader context.
“This vote comes at a critical time when Americans nationwide are eager to deliver on the promise of liberty and justice for all,” the mayor said. “For centuries, an incremental approach to equality in America has delayed this promise for too many. Now is the time for bold action.”
Bowser said it was time for the Senate to act.
“Now, with the historic support [of the House] and the strong backing of the White House, D.C. statehood moves to U.S. Senate,” she said. “Forty-five senators have already acknowledged that our nation will be stronger when we end the disenfranchisement of more than 700,000 Americans living in Washington, D.C. Frederick Douglass once said, ‘I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.’ We call on 55 senators who have not yet signed on in support of D.C. statehood to fulfill their responsibility to build a more perfect union and seize this important opportunity to right a 220-year-old wrong.”
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine echoed Bowser’s call to senators.
“As the legislation now moves to the Senate, I encourage senators to be courageous and take partisanship out of this debate,” Racine said. “Statehood for the District isn’t about scoring political wins by villainizing the District or reducing our quest for representation to merely another partisan game. We’re talking about more than 700,000 real lives. Giving us an equal voice strengthens our democracy.”
David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, an organization that advocates for the rights of Black LGBTQ individuals, praised the House’s action.
“Ensuring representation for Washington, D.C., is a critical civil rights issue as D.C. boasts one of the largest Black and LGBTQ communities in the country,” Johns said. “We urge the Senate to swiftly take up legislation to grant statehood to D.C. and swift passage of the bill into law.”
Will Roberts, the acting vice president for democracy and government reform at the Center for American Progress, said “today’s vote recognizes that it’s time to end the historic disenfranchisement of the people of Washington, D.C.”
“The measure would finally grant the roughly 700,000 residents of the nation’s capital the same voting rights and representation in Congress as every other American,” Roberts said. “And it would give the District’s government the same power as every other state—to govern its people when it comes to local decisions without interference from Congress or the president. The U.S. Senate must now pass this measure and admit Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, as the 51st state so that Washington residents can gain full voting rights guaranteed to every American by the U.S. Constitution.”