WASHINGTON — After over 200 years without voting rights, the efforts to allow Washington, DC, to become the 51st state are gaining traction. The House of Representatives has set the first-ever congressional hearing on statehood legislation, and now a majority of the Democrats running for president say they support making DC a state.
The House will hold a hearing July 24 for the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, which would put the nation’s capital on even ground with other states, giving it two voting senators and at least one representative. The bill would end “taxation without representation” in DC — a passive-aggressive slogan used on license plates in Washington to bring attention to the statehood fight.
The act is sponsored by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents DC’s more than 700,000 residents in Congress and who currently can propose legislation but cannot vote on bills. Her statehood bill has 209 Democratic cosponsors.
Meanwhile, the 51 for 51 campaign is pushing members of Congress and presidential candidates to support making the district a state with 51 votes in the Senate instead of the 60 votes currently required with the filibuster. Stasha Rhodes, campaign manager for 51 for 51, said the campaign sent seven people, six of whom are native to Washington, DC, to Iowa to speak with Democratic presidential candidates about statehood through 51 votes in the Senate. They spoke with seven presidential candidates who said they supported their proposed path to statehood: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Gov. Steve Bullock, and Reps. Eric Swalwell, Tim Ryan, and John Delaney. The group from 51 for 51 tweeted videos of themselves speaking to the candidates.
In addition to those seven, three other presidential candidates have expressed support for statehood through 51 votes in the Senate. Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand have both tweeted their support, and Rep. Seth Moulton’s spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that he supports the plan, too. Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke and Sen. Kamala Harris also told BuzzFeed News they support statehood for DC but did not comment specifically on the path proposed by 51 for 51. An O’Rourke spokesperson said that the candidate “wants to pursue the surest, quickest path to statehood for DC so we can ensure they have the proper representation in their democracy.”
“Statehood has to be a national conversation,” Rhodes said. “I think everyone has to understand what it means to have to pay federal taxes and not be represented in Congress, and so I think the next president has to ensure that these people feel like they are participating in the democracy.”
While there is definitely new momentum among Democrats toward recognizing DC as a state, the efforts still face a huge uphill battle with Republicans in control of the Senate and the White House. Given that DC votes heavily Democratic, statehood would almost certainly mean adding two new Democratic senators and another Democrat to the House. Thus the push for 51 votes — a slim majority in the Senate that the 51 for 51 campaign hopes Democrats can achieve in the near future.
“This is the only way; 51 votes, a simple majority in the Senate, is the only way to ensure DC becomes the 51st state,” Rhodes said.
Even still, granting full statehood would likely require a constitutional amendment, an incredibly high bar, given Republican opposition.
But the recent momentum has created hope for activists and groups that have long pushed for DC statehood, many of whom are partnering with the 51 for 51 campaign. “There are amazing DC advocates who have been working on this for years, and finally the momentum is happening for them,” Rhodes said.
Efforts toward statehood are also moving forward in the courts. On Monday the House of Representatives joined an amicus brief in a court case in which DC residents are suing for congressional representation.
“We will continue to stand up for the foundational principle in our democracy — that every American deserves an equal voice and a chance to elect representatives who will raise their voices in Congress,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in a press release about the amicus brief.