Arguments for D.C. statehood grow stronger following Capitol attack and plans for inauguration violence

Aric Jenkins

Following the historic events of last week, the Democratic Party’s dream of Washington, D.C., statehood appears more attainable than ever—but not just because Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock won majority-flipping Senate races in Georgia.

That same day the Associated Press and broadcasters confirmed the pair’s victory, Jan. 6, a violent mob of President Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol while Congress was in session, leaving five dead and dozens more injured. The Capitol Police force was overwhelmed and, with D.C. lacking a governor with the authority to summon the local National Guard, the city was left helpless for three hours as riots carried out.

As a result, U.S. officials ordered upwards of 10,000 National Guard troops—up from the originally planned 6,200—to occupy the nation’s capital ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20. But some say a more long-term solution is needed.

“We must get statehood on the President’s desk within the first 100 days of the 117th Congress,” Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said on Thursday during a press conference. “Congress must immediately transfer command of the District of Columbia National Guard from the President of the United States and put it squarely under the command and control of the District of Columbia.”

Asked how she would have responded to the riot had she been a governor instead of a mayor, Bowser said, “We would not be restricted in any way for how to deploy the Guard, so we wouldn’t have to clear a deployment plan with the secretary of the Army.”

Under current law, only the federal government has the power to deploy the D.C. National Guard. Trump deployed the service promptly over the summer when Black Lives Matter protesters gathered for largely peaceful demonstrations, but the federal government didn’t act as quickly last week.

“The mayor should not be reliant on the President to deploy the National Guard to protect public safety in D.C., and D.C. should never have to worry that a President will take over its police force and use it how he or she sees fit,” Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s Democratic representative in the House of Representatives, said.

Norton’s position in Congress highlights the initial call for D.C. to become the 51st state. A “shadow representative,” Norton is unable to vote on proposed legislation in the full House, though she maintains congressional abilities such as introducing legislation and speaking on the House floor. Federal lawmakers, meanwhile, often intervene in D.C.’s locally passed legislation, such as increased funding for abortion and reproductive rights, the sale of recreational marijuana, gun violence prevention, and other contentious issues.

Despite this, the city is unable to choose its own judges or budget. And D.C. residents pay more in federal taxes per capita than anywhere else in the country. It’s a classic case of “taxation without representation,” critics say.

The movement for D.C. statehood dates back to the early 19th century, but it picked up serious legitimacy in recent decades. In 2017, Norton introduced the DC Admission Act into Congress, which the Democratically controlled House passed last June. It failed in the Senate, though, with Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissing the bill as “full-bore socialism.”

D.C. is an overwhelmingly liberal city, and Republicans know that admitting it to the union would be politically disadvantageous. But with Ossoff and Warnock’s victories in the Senate and Biden soon ascending to the presidency, Democrats now have an opening to push through the bill.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who is set to become Senate majority leader once Biden is sworn in, issued his support for D.C. statehood this past summer. “As one of my top priorities when it comes to voting rights and democracy reform, I will keep working in the Senate to secure statehood, full voting rights, and full home rule, for D.C. in this Congress and beyond,” he said in a statement.

As for Biden, he simply tweeted in June: “DC should be a state. Pass it on.”

Following the meager police response to the Capitol riot, Norton said she believes statehood is now “in sight.”

“We have upped the ante, I think, with what happened here in the Capitol,” she told Insider on Friday. 

“The notion that the house in our own city—the city that happens to be the capital—and that city has no representation, no complete representation, at a time of crisis, points up the need for the District of Columbia to become a state and have the same tools that every other state has,” Norton added.

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