Politics

Steny Hoyer, Once Opposed, Now Supports D.C. Statehood

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he fully embraces the aspiration of the District of Columbia to become the 51st state of the Union despite opposing statehood legislation earlier in his career.

In an interview Tuesday with The Washington Informer, Hoyer said he didn’t support D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s statehood legislation in 1993 because he felt Congress was not ready to adopt it.

“I have always strongly supported the Washington, D.C., representative having a full vote in the House of Representatives,” Hoyer said. “But at that point, there were not enough votes to pass [a] statehood bill.”

On Nov. 21, 1993, the House considered a District statehood bill for the first time in its history, though Hoyer and 276 other representatives from both parties rejected the legislation, while 153 — all Democrats with the exception of one Republican — voted in favor of it. Then-President Clinton issued a statement supporting Norton’s bill and House Speaker Tom Foley (D-Wash.) and House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) favored the legislation, also.

A statehood bill didn’t receive consideration while President Obama was in office. While Obama supported statehood, the emphasis most of his term was focusing on Norton getting a vote on the House floor. Legislation calling for the D.C. delegate to get a vote on the floor with Utah adding another voting member passed the Senate in February 2009 but was suspended in the House when an amendment gutting the city’s gun laws was added.

Hoyer said the District’s possible power as a state to assess a commuter tax “colored” possible statehood legislation. However, he said over the years he decided it was in the best interest of District residents that they become a state.

“Being a state is the only way for Washingtonians to have equal status with other citizens,” he said. “I have been a strong supporter of statehood since then.”

Hoyer said Norton’s statehood bill will be passed by the House and that the Senate may present some problems but “we are taking this one step at a time.”

“We know in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, favors statehood,” he said. “We hope the Senate gives statehood legislation the same chance for passage that we did in the House.”

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