The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill that would make Washington, D.C., a state — but it’s unlikely to gain enough support in the evenly-divided U.S. Senate to become law.
The legislation, passed 216-208 along party lines after debate on the House floor, would create a 51st state called Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, that would consist of “most of the territory of the District of Columbia” and would give it an “equal footing with the other states.”
If passed, the bill would give D.C. the standard two senators and one voting representative in the House.
Supporters of D.C. statehood have said the push is about fair representation, pointing out that the district has a larger population than some states and that residents pay the highest per capita income taxes in the country without having lawmakers representing their interests in Congress. They also say race is a factor, as the district is 46% Black as of 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
But opponents have called it a “power grab,” with some arguing it would make it more difficult for Republicans to get majorities in the Senate.
What happens next?
Now the bill will go to the U.S. Senate for consideration. If passed, it would go to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law, making D.C. a state.
The president has previously said he supports D.C. statehood, and his administration on Tuesday released a statement calling for a “swift and orderly” transition to statehood.
“For far too long, the more than 700,000 people of Washington, D.C. have been deprived of full representation in the U.S. Congress,” the statement said. “This taxation without representation and denial of selfgovernance is an affront to the democratic values on which our Nation was founded.”
But the bill would need 60 votes to pass the Senate, as required to end debate on the floor, and therefore 10 Republicans along with all Democrats to vote in favor — which is unlikely as several Senate Republicans have voiced opposition to the bill.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told Forbes reporter Andrew Solender that he thinks D.C. should retrocede into Maryland as “a compromise.” And Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she did not have a position.
“The House just passed a purely partisan bill to pack the Senate with 2 more liberal senators,” Sen. Steve Daines of Montana tweeted Thursday. “Don’t let the Democrats fool you. This isn’t about representation, it’s a power grab to advance their radical agenda and destroy our Montana way of life.”
The bill would also require the support of moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have not yet said how they would vote, CNBC reports.
But other Democratic lawmakers have come out in support of the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer from New York has pledged to bring it to the floor for a vote and said arguments against making D.C. a state are motivated by “bigotry,” CBS News reports.
“I shouldn’t have to remind my colleagues that it’s shockingly inappropriate to imply that lives and occupations and rights of D.C. residents are somehow less than their fellow citizens in other, more real, quote-unquote, and almost always more white parts of the country,” he said. “We all know that the minority party opposes D.C. statehood because it fears giving political power and representation to American citizens that might not vote for Republicans.”
Sen. Tim Kaine of neighboring state Virginia tweeted Thursday that D.C. residents have been “denied civil rights” for “too long.”
“The Senate should follow the House’s lead in giving equal rights to D.C.’s more than 700,000 residents that the rest of the country enjoys,” Kaine tweeted.
The House passed a previous version of the bill in June of last year. But it later died in the Senate as then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to bring it for a vote.
“This is full-bore socialism on the march in the House,” McConnell said at the time, according to The Washington Post. “And yeah, as long as I’m the majority leader of the Senate, none of that stuff is going anywhere.”
The Office of Management and Budget under former President Donald Trump called the bill “unconstitutional” and a violation of the 23rd Amendment, which gave the district three Electoral College votes.
In 2016, district residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of statehood, passing a measure to petition Congress to become a state, NPR reports. But to become a state, a bill still needs to pass Congress and be signed into law by the president.
The Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol gave the yearslong push for D.C. statehood new urgency.
“I’m upset that 706,000 residents of the District did not have a single vote in Congress yesterday despite the fact that our people were putting their lives on the line to protect our democracy,” Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted the day after the attack. “We should all be upset.”