Republicans blew up after a Democratic congressman accused them of spreading 'racist trash' in a debate over giving Washington, DC, statehood

mondaire jones
Rep. Mondaire Jones. C-SPAN
  • GOP lawmakers erupted after Rep. Mondaire Jones accused them of spreading "racist trash."

  • The argument came as the House was debating a bill to grant statehood to Washington, DC.

  • Jones withdrew his comment but said the GOP was scared its "white-supremacist politics" wouldn't work in DC.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Republican lawmakers blew up on Thursday after Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones accused the GOP of spreading "racist trash" during a heated debate over a bill to grant statehood to Washington, DC.

"I've had enough of my colleagues' racist insinuations that somehow the people of Washington, DC, are incapable or even unworthy of our democracy," Jones said on the House floor.

He then called out Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas for saying DC wouldn't be a "well-rounded working-class state."

"I had no idea there were so many syllables in the word 'white,'" Jones said.

He also pointed out Republican Rep. Jody Hice's claim that Washington, DC, does not deserve statehood because it doesn't have a landfill.

"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," Jones continued, as Republicans could be heard objecting to his comments. "The truth is there is no good-faith argument for disenfranchising over 700,000 people, Mr. Speaker, most of whom are people of color."

As Jones spoke, several Republican lawmakers interrupted to call for a point of order. Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland asked for Jones to withdraw his comments, to which Jones agreed.

But Jones went on to say that the GOP's "desperate objections" to HR 51, the DC statehood bill, "are about fear that in DC their white-supremacist politics will no longer play, fear that soon enough white-supremacist politics won't work anywhere in America, fear that if they don't rig our democracy they will not win."

The House eventually voted along party lines, 216-208, to pass HR 51 on Thursday. The White House also endorsed the measure on Tuesday, saying in a statement, "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."

It continued: "This taxation without representation and denial of self-governance is an affront to the democratic values on which our Nation was founded."

Race is a central issue in the escalating debate over DC statehood. Almost half of the city's residents are Black, and if the district were to become a state, it would be the only one in which a plurality of residents are Black.

Democrats have argued that GOP opposition to DC statehood is motivated in part by a desire to disenfranchise Black and brown voters, who are disproportionately Democrats. During a House committee hearing last week on HR 51, Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly called Republicans' legal arguments against statehood a "subterfuge" for their efforts "to make it harder for people of color to vote."

Democrats have also argued that denying Black Washingtonians representation in Congress is an offense to the history of the city, which was the first place the federal government abolished slavery and which became a refuge for many formerly enslaved Black Americans.

"The people who fled here to the District of Columbia to flee slavery because of the enlightenment of this community are now disenfranchised because of that very act," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said during a 2019 hearing on statehood.

And the history of opposition to federal representation for Washington, DC, is rooted in anti-Black racism. Confederate lawmakers explicitly rejected DC's various attempts to self-govern and elect its own representation because of its large Black population.

"In the face of this influx of negro population from the surrounding States, [Congress] … found it necessary to disenfranchise every man in the District of Columbia … in order thereby to get rid of this load of negro suffrage that was flooded in upon them," Sen. John Tyler Morgan of Alabama, who owned slaves, said in 1890.

Morgan explained that Congress got rid of local leadership in the city "to burn down the barn to get rid of the rats … the rats being the negro population and the barn being the government of the District of Columbia."

It wasn't until the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s that the city was given the right to elect its own mayor and non-voting House member.

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