The House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would make Washington, D.C. the country’s 51st state, in a party-line vote of 216-208, sending the legislation to the U.S. Senate.
The House’s vote was the second in a year to make Washington, the District of Columbia a state – Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, composed of most of D.C.’s current territory, with a federal district around the White House, National Mall and Capitol kept out.
While Democrats, en masse, argued for giving the 712,000 residents of D.C. respresentation, Republicans shared a number of ideas of how to fix the problem without adding what would almost certainly be two Democratic senators and one Democratic representative to Congress.
Prior to the vote, Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones sparked fury on the House floor by calling Republican arguments against statehood ‘racist trash,’ as D.C. is a majority-minority city.
‘One Senate Republican, said that D.C. wouldn’t be a “well rounded working class state.” I had no ideas there were so many syllables in the word white,’ the freshman New Yorker said.
‘One of my House Republican colleagues said that D.C. shouldn’t be a state because the District doesn’t have a landfill,’ he continued. ‘My goodness, with all the racist trash my colleagues have brought to this debate I can see why they’re worried about having a place to put it.’
In a party-line vote, House Democrats passed H.R. 51 which would make Washington, D.C. the country’s 51st state, solving the problem of around 712,000 Americans having no representation in the U.S. Congress
Rep. Mondaire Jones sparked fury on the House floor when he said the reason why GOP lawmakers were so concerned with D.C. having is landfill was because they needed a place to put ‘all the racist trash my colleagues have brought to this debate’
Rep. Louie Gohmert could be heard yelling after Jones’ ‘racist trash’ remarks, as Republicans asked that the New York Democrat’s words be struck from the record. Earlier, Gohmert said one fix for D.C. would be to allow the residents to not pay federal taxes
A map provided by the D.C. government shows how the city would be divided into Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, with the red area – that includes the White House, Capitol, many federal agencies and the National Mall – staying under federal control
Rep. Louie Gohmert, who had just delivered his own floor speech, against D.C. statehood could be heard shouting over Jones, as Republican asked that the comments be struck from the record.
Jones agreed – but then continued, saying the Repulicans’ ‘desperate objections are about fear.’
‘If they don’t rig our democracy they will not win,’ he said. ‘Today Democrats are standing up for a multi-racial democracy.’
Rep. Dusty Johnson, a South Dakota Republican, pitched retrocession – essentially making the neighborhood portions of D.C. a part of Maryland again.
‘If your goal is truly suffrage let’s do this together,’ he pitched to his Democratic colleagues across the aisle.
Gohmert, a Texas Republican, pointed to a bill he’s sponsored in the past that would remedy the issue of ‘taxation without representation,’ by allowing District residents to not pay federal taxes.
He said Democrats haven’t joined the effort becuase they’d rather gain the new members of their party in Congress.
Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland, said that turning D.C. into a state wasn’t what his state intended.
‘This is Maryland’s land we’re talking about. How dare the Congress take Maryland’s land from it,’ he said on the House floor.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise sent out a memo arguing against D.C. statehood – due to the city’s crime, budget and history of crooks – on the eve of the House’s D.C. statehood vote, a second in under a year
A Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police car sits outside an apartment building in the Carver-Langston neighborhood in Northeast D.C. last May, as an uptick in violence rattled the neighborhood with crime increasing by 40 per cent compared to 2019 figures
Republicans have made a number of arguments against residents of D.C. (pictured: the city’s Chinatown neighborhood) getting representation in Congress, including that the city doesn’t have any mines or a landfill and wrongly claiming there are no car dealerships
In June, the House voted 232-180 approving D.C. statehood, sending the bill to the U.S. Senate where it died in the last Congress.
Not a single House Republican voted in favor of the legislation.
The same dynamic was at play Thursday.
However, now that Democrats have slim control of the U.S. Senate, the legislation could receive a vote in that chamber as well.
Across the Capitol Building on Thursday morning, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reiterated his support for the measure.
‘D.C. Statehood is an idea whose time has come,’ the New York Democrat said.
Schumer will need to keep his own caucus together – and attract the support of 10 Republicans – for the bill to pass, an almost impossible feat.
And then there could still be constitutional challenges to the legislation after that.
President Joe Biden has said he’s supportive of the D.C. statehood.
Republicans have come up with a laundry list of reasons for why a jurisdiction of more than 700,000 people – a higher population than Wyoming and Vermont – deserves zero respresentation in Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi added that on top of that D.C.’s budget is larger than 12 states.
‘Its people have fought in every American war since the Revolution,’ she added.
‘D.C. residents have been fighting for voting rights and autonomy for 220 years, with a full 86 percent recently voting for statehood. And it is well past the time to grant them the rights that they have been fighting for and that they deserve,’ Pelosi said.
WHY D.C. ISN’T ALREADY A STATE?
The Constitution outlined the creation of a federal district that would be under the jurisdiction of Congress – and, by design, not be part of any U.S. state.
Virginia and Maryland originally gave the land that would become Washington, D.C. – though in 1846, Congress gave Virginia’s portion back.
Congress held its first session in the new United States capital in 1800.
In the early years, residents were able to vote in some local elections, but that ended in the 1870s. As History.com reported, ‘white congressmen didn’t want newly-enfranchised black men running the nation’s capital.’
Residents were also unable to vote for president of the United States nor did they have voting members of Congress.
The majority black city made some progress in the civil rights era ushering in the 23rd Amendment in 1961, which gave D.C. residents the right to vote for president and vice president with three Electoral College votes, the lowest number states are eligible for.
In 1971, gained a non-voting Congressional delegate who could speak on the floor and participate in committee meetings, but not vote on legislation.
When Democrats have been in control D.C.’s delegate has been able to vote in committee, but that privilege has been stripped when Republicans have a majority.
In 1973 with passage of the Home Rule Act, D.C. residents could now elect a mayor and city council, however Congress was still able to overrule laws passed by the local government.
Five years later, D.C. came close to gaining Congressional representation – with two senators and one House member – through a Constitutional amendment, which passed Congress but was never ratified by enough states.
The effort died in 1985.
Since 1980, there’s been an effort to make D.C. a state.
The House passed D.C. statehood legislation for the first time in June 2020 – and again on April 22, 2021. The Senate has never given the bill a vote.
On the eve of the vote, the House’s No. 2 Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise, pointed to the District of Columbia’s uptick in crime in just the latest GOP argument against giving the capital city statehood.
‘Why should the District of Columbia be granted statehood when it can’t even perform basic governmental duties like protecting its residents against criminals?’ Scalise asked in an anti-statehood memo his office put out, first obtained by Forbes.
The document also focuses on D.C.’s budget and history of crooked officials.
Crime is up in the District, though that’s a national trend, which could be impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The crime rate is much lower than it was in the 1990s.
Scalise also used a ’90s figure, the late Mayor Marion Barry, as evidence of D.C. government mismanagement and corruption.
Things have gotten much better in recent years.
The city government had a half a billion dollar surplus in fiscal year 2020, a New York Magazine story on Scalise’s comments pointed out, calling his reasoning ‘ignorant’ and ‘racist.’
Last month during a House Oversight Hearing on the legislation, GOP lawmakers suggested D.C. shouldn’t be a state because it doesn’t have a landfill – as Jones pointed out Thursday – mines or a car dealership.
‘D.C. would be the only state, the only state, without an airport, without a car dealership, without a capital city, without a landfill, without even a name on its own, and we could go on and on and on,’ argued Rep. Jody Hice, a Georgia Republican.
There are several car dealerships in D.C.
Rep. Glenn Grothman, a Wisconsin Republican, asked D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser about the District’s manufacturing, agriculture, mining and drilling, arguing ‘those are things that I think every state has to some degree.’
‘We do not have any mines, congressman,’ Bowser replied.
Rep. James Comer, a Kentucky Republican and the committee’s ranking member, argued that D.C. statewood was a ‘key part of the radical leftist agenda to reshape America, along with the Green New Deal, defunding the police and packing the U.S. Supreme Court.
Comer also called the bill ‘flatly unconstitutional.’
Bowser said anti-statehood arguments have usually come as ‘thinly veiled attacks on our political leandings and, quite frankly, on our diversity and history of black political power.’
She urged lawmakers to ‘move beyond the tired, non-factual and frankly anti-democratic rhetoric and extend full democracy to the residents of the District of Columbia.’
She also argued that the disenfranchisement has persisted because of the ‘racist efforts to subvert a growing and thriving black city,’ pointing to the Congressional record where white representatives refererred to it as the ‘negro problem.’