Even though the Democratic Party currently controls both houses of Congress and the White House, the House of Representatives voted on Thursday to pass a bill that would give statehood to Washington, DC, a Democratic priority that faces hurdles to final passage. The vote was 216-208 on the party side.
The bill now faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where it is impossible to garner enough Republican support to pass with a 60-vote majority. Even if every Senate Democrat voted in favour of the bill, it’s uncertain whether it will pass. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat, said on Thursday that he is undecided on the statehood bill for the District of Columbia.
“I got so many things on my plate that I haven’t even gotten to that yet,” he told CNN when asked if he supports it.
The issue of granting statehood to Washington, DC — which voted for Joe Biden over then-President Donald Trump by 92 percent to 5% in November — has been framed by Democrats as an important step toward equal representation and voting rights in the United States, while Republicans have argued that the legislation is a partisan effort by Democrats to push a progressive agenda and tip the scales in their favour.
According to one-year figures from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, DC’s projected 2019 population of 705,749 was higher than the estimated populations of 77 of the 435 current congressional districts. In 2019, DC had a population projected to be higher than two states: Vermont (623,989) and Wyoming (623,989). (578,759).
HR 51 was presented by Democratic Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a nonvoting member of the House of Representatives from DC and a lifelong proponent of statehood.
“With HR 51, Congress is taking a significant step to enfranchise the people of DC and empower them to participate fully in our democracy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of the legislation on Wednesday. “Again, we’re excited that we will pass it. We will celebrate, and we hope that momentum will help it pass in the Senate so that the President can sign it into law,” the California Democrat said.
The bill, H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, was also passed by House Democrats last year in a historic vote that marked the first time either chamber of Congress had advanced a DC statehood measure. However, it failed to gain traction in the Senate, which at the time was dominated by a Republican majority.
“Let’s be very clear what HR 51 is all about: It’s all about creating two new Democrat US Senate seats,” GOP Rep. James Comer of Kentucky said during a committee markup of the bill last week.
“This bill is part of the progressive pathway that President Biden, Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi have to reshape America into that socialist utopia that the Squad talk about,” he said, referring to the self-dubbed group of lawmakers that includes New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Last month, Democratic DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and other elected leaders testified at a hearing on the bill.
Democrats made it clear during the hearing that granting statehood to DC is a civil rights and representation problem, while Republicans argued that making the nation’s capital the 51st state by legislation, rather than a constitutional amendment, defies the nation’s rules, and pushed back on other logistical and political issues.
Bowser said in a statement on Thursday following House passage of the legislation: “This vote comes at a critical time when Americans nationwide are eager to deliver on the promise of liberty and justice for all. For centuries, an incremental approach to equality in America has delayed this promise for too many. Now is the time for bold action.”