House Democrats Push For DC To Become The 51st State

For the second time in its 230 year history, the capital of the United State Washington DC’s bid for statehood returned to Congress, securing a 232-180 victory in the House, almost entirely along party lines. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., made up the Democrat opposition for the bill. While Democrats parade the decision as an overdue acknowledgment of the citizenship for over 700,000 people of the capital and delivering their deserved representation in Washington, Republicans pan the move as a blatant power grab, almost certainly providing Democrats one more representative in the House and, more devastatingly for Republicans, two more Senators.

Despite support from Washingtonians, the bill looks to be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate and, even if passed by some miracle, won’t survive the veto pen of President Donald Trump, who has voiced his displeasure with the bill, questioning the intent by asking “Why? So we can have two more Democratic — Democrat senators and five more congressmen? No, thank you. That’ll never happen.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told Laura Ingraham last year that any Democratic push for D.C. statehood is “full-bore socialism on the march in the House” and that “as long as I’m the majority leader of the Senate, none of that stuff is going anywhere.”

The bill, entitled “HR 51”, would convert DC into a “commonwealth”, which “shall be admitted to the Union on an equal footing with the other states,” according to the bill itself. HR 51 would rename Washington, D.C. the “Douglass Commonwealth”, coined after the famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The D.C. mayor, Muriel Bowser, would become governor and the city council would act as the legislative assembly. A capital city district would also be carved around the White House, government buildings, the National Mall, and U.S. Capitol.

The city does have some limited participation in the federal government, including representation in the Electoral College for Presidential Elections, a non-voting delegate, and a shadow senator not formally recognized by the Senate. Paul Strauss, the current shadow senator for the capital, told Fox News, “We are essentially a donor state,” paying more in federal taxes than any other non-voting territory and don’t receive proportional support for their population, which exceeds both Wyoming and Vermont.

Statehood generally requires three attributes to qualify as a state through approval in Congress. Firstly, over half the population desire statehood. Secondly, the population should support American ideals and democracy. And thirdly, the state must be able to support itself without relying on the federal government. All three the capital passes. However, if a state, the federal government would be, in some capacity, held to the laws and regulations of another power,  Washington DC, which itself would be held to the laws and regulations of the federal government. 

Logistically, establishing DC as the 51st state would be tricky, requiring sweeping amendments to the definition of statehood and the interactions between federal and state-level governments. A state with such unparalleled influence as held within the housing the federal government would also be a serious threat to power balances between states, therefore requiring a separation between state and federal powers for the land. But the ensuing political shift within Congress has led the question to become a partisan game rather than a logistical question. 

And both sides are acutely aware of this fact. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said, “This is about power. Make no mistake about it,? and added the bill would “fundamentally alter what D.C is.?

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas expressed his outrage at the decision with a fiery 18-minute long speech on the Senate floor, calling the move a power grab and asking “What vital industries would the new state of Washington represent? Lobbying? Bureaucracy? Give me a break. By far, the largest group of workers in the city are bureaucrats and other white-collar professionals.”

Other Republicans questioned DC’s sustainability with Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., arguing “DC is not prepared — financially and otherwise.”

Since originally donated from the land from Maryland, Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., offered an alternate solution, suggesting, “This is Maryland’s land. Maryland gave it to the United States for the sole purpose of the permanent federal enclave. The nerve of hundreds of my colleagues on the other side other aisle thinking it’s their land. It’s Maryland’s land. And if you want voting rights. It’s simple. Do exactly what occurred in 1847 and give the land back to Maryland.”

On the other side, Democrats seek to amend the injustice of DC residents paying taxes, serving the military, and boosting the economic power of the United States without proper representation in the federal government.

“This bill allows our country to live up to its claim to be a democracy,” said Washington Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democratic non-voting member of the U.S. House. “We stand out as the only democracy, which denies democracy to the residents of its own capital city.”

Robert C. White, one of the district’s at-large councilmembers, told NPR, “We pay taxes like every other American state. We fight and die in wars like residents of every state. And we deserve the same opportunity to have a voice in how our nation is governed.” 

Democrats compare DC’s pursuit for statehood to the Revolutionary War and America’s fight for independence. DC license plates flaunt the “taxation without representation” slogan and lawmakers wore masks with “51” imprinted within the outline of the capital.

The United States hasn’t added any states since 1959, a compromise that admitted the “Republican” Hawaii and the “Democratic” Alaska.

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