WASHINGTON – The Democratic-led House of Representatives again passed legislation Thursday that would make Washington, D.C., the 51st state – something residents and leaders in the nation's capital have been requesting for decades.
The bill passed 216-208.
But the Washington, D.C. Admission Act faces slim chances of advancing in the split Senate, where it would need Republican support to overcome a legislative hurdle known as the filibuster. Without at least 10 Senate Republican votes joining all 50 Democrats and independents, the legislation will not make it to President Joe Biden’s desk
The bill, introduced by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., passed the House in the last Congress, though it was not given a vote in the then-Republican-majority Senate. The 2020 passage in the House marked the first time a D.C. statehood bill passed in either chamber of Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaking at a news conference Wednesday and donning a mask with the number “51” on it, said: "Our founders built our democracy on a simple promise that every American should have a voice in our government: from City Hall, to the halls of Congress. Washingtonians. ... pay taxes, fight in our wars, contribute to the economic life of our country. But for centuries, they have been denied their right to representation."
"Taxation without representation" is on Washington license plates because residents pay taxes but are not represented with a vote in Congress, Pelosi noted.
Residents can vote in presidential elections. Norton is Washington's sole congressional delegate, a position that allows her to draft legislation but not vote, according to the city's government.
With HR 51, Pelosi continued, "Congress is taking a significant step to enfranchise the people of D.C. with power to participate fully in our democracy."
Democrats, supporters of the legislation and Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser have argued that statehood for Washington, a city with a large Black population, is a civil-rights issue. Supporters say statehood is necessary because the residents are disenfranchised with the lack of representation in Congress.
Census Bureau data shows that 46% of the district's population is African American, 11% is Hispanic or Latino and 4% is Asian.
But Republicans argue the population size of Washington makes it too small to be a state.
Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., recently claimed that Washington “wouldn’t even qualify as a singular congressional district,” and that should disqualify it from gaining statehood. She said so while Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican who represents Wyoming, stood behind her.
Washington, D.C., with a population of around 700,000, is bigger than Wyoming and Vermont in terms of population, according to the most recent census data.
Republicans have also accused Democrats of seeking statehood for political gain, as residents in the district tend to lean toward that party politically. Since 2000, according to the Brookings Institute, the Democratic presidential nominee has captured over 89% of the vote in Washington.
Under the bill, the state would be represented by two senators, like all other states, and one member of the House of Representatives. The number of representatives a state has is based on population. Vermont, Delaware, Wyoming, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana each have one representative.
Republicans have long insisted those senators would be Democrats.
"They plan to make the District of Columbia a state – that’d give them two new Democratic senators – Puerto Rico a state, that would give them two more new Democratic senators," McConnell said in an interview with Fox News' Laura Ingraham last year. "So this is full bore socialism on the march in the House."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaking from the Senate floor Thursday, said arguments against Washington statehood are rooted in bigotry.
“The debate over D.C. statehood has taken a rather dark turn," he said. "Some of my colleagues on the other side, rather than fashion any argument on the merits, have taken to denigrating the base worth of residents of the District of Columbia.”
Ahead of the vote Thursday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called Washington statehood a "scheme" hinged on "consolidating power and enacting radical policies."
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, opposes the legislation, telling reporters he supports making Washington, D.C., a part of the state of Maryland, giving residents a voting member of the House, but not adding any members to the Senate.
On Tuesday, the White House formally backed the statehood for the district, saying the legislation would provide the Washington residents with "long overdue full representation in Congress."
"Establishing the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth as the 51st state will make our Union stronger and more just," the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement. "Washington, D.C. has a robust economy, a rich culture, and a diverse population of Americans from all walks of life who are entitled to full and equal participation in our democracy."
Republicans also say the Constitution specifically set aside land for the capital that was not a state.
The proposed state's territory would include all of the district's current territory, except for monuments and federal buildings such as the White House and Capitol building.
The issue of statehood resurfaced after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building by supporters of former President Donald Trump. Bowser called on Congress to grant statehood to Washington. The mayor cannot deploy Washington's National Guard troops because authority over the Guard forces lies with the president, the secretary of defense and the secretary of the Army.
"Arguing that Washingtonians must remain disenfranchised to protect the interests of the federal government is dangerous, outdated and downright insulting," Bowser said during a March hearing in Congress.
With lawmakers such as Romney not on board, the legislation faces a grim future.
While the Senate version of the legislation has more than 40 sponsors, several moderates remain undecided. A few Democrats, and all Republicans, have not co-sponsored it.
But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., expressed optimism Wednesday about the future of the legislation, noting the bill has the support of Biden and Schumer.
"So, we're not in the same position we were last year," Hoyer said. "We knew that Sen. McConnell was not going to put the bill on the floor for the wrong reasons. We're very hopeful that we can move forward on this. Obviously, we're going to need some Republicans to vote principle rather than politics."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DC statehood bill passes House for second time, heads to Senate