The House on Friday approved landmark legislation granting statehood to Washington, D.C., in a 232-180 vote.
The vote was historic, marking the first time either chamber has passed legislation to elevate the District to the 51st state — and empower its residents with long-sought voting representation within the halls of Congress.
Calls for Washington, D.C., to gain statehood have gained steam amid the national calls for racial justice that have followed the police killing of George Floyd last month.
The issue is highly partisan, and Friday’s outcome reflected it. Every Democrat except one, Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonHouse approves statehood for DC in 232-180 vote House to pass sweeping police reform legislation From farmers to grocery store clerks, thank you to all of our food system MORE (D-Minn.), voted in favor of the proposal, which was sponsored by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes NortonEleanor Holmes NortonHouse approves statehood for DC in 232-180 vote House set for historic vote on DC statehood Mitchell, Holmes Norton charged by man near White House MORE (D), while every Republican opposed it.
The vote is also largely symbolic, since Senate Republicans oppose D.C. statehood — and are certain to ignore Norton’s bill — while President TrumpDonald John TrumpMiami-Dade to close beaches for July Fourth weekend over coronavirus fears Oklahoma reporter tests positive for COVID-19 after attending at Trump’s Tulsa rally Trump slams Illinois governor, mayor over violence in Chicago, calls for ‘law and order’ MORE has promised to veto the proposal if it somehow makes it as far as his desk.
But just months before November’s elections, Democrats are hoping to highlight their legislative priorities for voters to see. And Floyd’s death in the custody of Minneapolis police on May 25 — which unloosed a flood of pressure on Congress to tackle racism across broad facets of American culture — has given new life to a host of years-old proposals designed, at least in part, to empower African Americans and other minorities.
For supporters, granting statehood to D.C. is another extension of that message — an effort to enfranchise voters in a city that’s boasted a majority-minority population for decades.
“People in the District of Columbia pay taxes, fight our wars, risk their lives for our democracy. And yet … they have no vote in the House or the Senate about whether we go to war, and how those taxes are exacted and how this is all played, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Trump not wearing a mask is ‘cowardly’ House approves statehood for DC in 232-180 vote Clyburn threatens to end in-person coronavirus committee hearings if Republicans won’t wear masks MORE (D-Calif.) said in the Capitol, a few hours before the vote. “We’re at a state of compromise, and we think it’s very long overdue.”
Under the legislation, D.C. would be granted one voting representative in the House and two in the Senate. Under current law, Norton is the District’s lone delegate, with voting powers in committees but not on the House floor. Washington has no senators.
GOP lawmakers have blasted the legislation as a Democratic power grab, noting the lopsided partisan leanings of the District’s residents. The critics also contend that D.C. statehood is unconstitutional, arguing that the nation’s founders established the city as a neutral zone to govern outside the influence of state politics.
“My friends on the other side of the aisle may gasp and protest and outrage at the suggestion that what this is all about is an attempt to get two more Democratic senators. But that’s what this is really all about,” Rep. Jody HiceJody Brownlow HiceHouse approves statehood for DC in 232-180 vote The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan says there will be consequences from fraying US-China relations; WHO walks back claims on asymptomatic spread of virus Overnight Energy: Biden campaign says he would revoke Keystone XL permit | EPA emails reveal talks between Trump officials, chemical group before 2017 settlement | Tensions emerge on Natural Resources panel over virtual meetings MORE (R-Ga.) said on the floor. “The Constitution clearly establishes a federation of sovereign states, [and] the representation here in Washington, D.C., comes from those states, the federation of those states.
“This city, this district is a unique entity.”
The lack of representation for the District of Columbia has long been a heated topic for the city’s residents and the Democrats seeking statehood. Those voices are quick to note that D.C.’s population — almost 700,000 people — is higher than that of both Wyoming and Vermont. Some are accusing the opponents of wanting to deny statehood because of the District’s large Black population.
“Washington, D.C., is the home to more Americans than two states, and more than 46 percent of the 700,000 residents are Black,” Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersHouse approves statehood for DC in 232-180 vote House fails to override Trump veto of bill blocking DeVos student loan rule Treasury to give Congress access to all PPP loan data MORE (D-Calif.) said on the floor.
“Make no mistake, race underlies every argument against D.C. statehood,” she added. “And denying its citizens equal participation and representation is a racial, democratic, and economic injustice we cannot tolerate.”