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The House Held A Historic Hearing On Making Washington, DC, The 51st State

The DC statehood bill has unprecedented support in the House, but not a single Republican supports the plan.

Posted on September 19, 2019, at 6:07 p.m. ET

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

DC Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton at the statehood hearing Thursday.

WASHINGTON — For the first time since 1993, the House held a committee hearing Thursday on a bill that would make Washington, DC, the 51st state. Republicans weren’t having it.

A sprinkling of committee members showed up for the historic hearing on a bill that would give Washington, DC, the same voting privileges in Congress that the 48 contiguous states, Hawaii, and Alaska enjoy. For years the argument has revolved around taxation without representation — the idea that DC’s 702,000 residents pay the 23rd highest federal taxes in the US with no voting power in the House or the Senate. DC also has a larger population than two states — Vermont and Wyoming — but its laws are subject to congressional oversight.

“The fact is, denying American citizens a vote in this body that taxes them goes against the very founding premise of this nation,” said DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, who days ago held a rally and parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, lining it with flags that show 51 stars.

Witness Kerwin Miller, a veteran and resident of DC, spoke to the disadvantages of the city’s veterans. Miller asked Congress to stand up for veterans who can be called to war yet have no right to vote for lawmakers who make that decision in Congress. As of 2017, roughly 28,000 veterans lived in DC, according to the city’s data.

The bill, which would establish Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, as the 51st state, has historic support in Congress. In the House, it has 220 cosponsors, 217 of whom can vote on the House floor, just one short of passing. But that support comes exclusively from Democrats (including several presidential candidates), killing its chances of ever seeing a vote in the Republican-led Senate.

Republicans argue adding DC as a state would require a constitutional amendment. But Democrats, the DC mayor, and Kenneth Thomas, an attorney with the Congressional Research Service who testified for Democrats, argued that the amendment was unnecessary (the fight is complicated, but revolves around whether the 23rd Amendment, which gave DC residents a say in presidential elections, precludes it from becoming a state).

“But let’s face it, these are bad-faith arguments by people who really oppose statehood because they think it will mean two Democratic senators,” said Bowser.

Tom Williams / AP

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton at a statehood rally.

Seventy-five percent of the District’s voters are registered Democrats, while just 6% are Republicans. Bowser, other witnesses, and Democrats on the committee also pointed to the fact that DC is about 46% black, according to 2018 Census figures.

“When they say it’s not about race and partisanship, you can bet it’s about race and partisanship,” Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly said of Republicans.

Republican Rep. Thomas Massie also brought up that congressional staffer parking spaces would be a part of DC, not federal land, under the new statehood boundaries. (The planned 51st state would still have carve-outs of federal land, including the National Mall, the US Capitol, and the White House.) Massie also noted in a tweet that the new DC boundaries would place President Donald Trump’s hotel on district, not federal, land.

When Republicans brought up the ethics allegations against DC Council member Jack Evans, Democrats shot back.

“The claim seems to be that if one person in a jurisdiction gets in trouble you disenfranchise the entire community,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and former constitutional law professor. “That cuts against everything we believe in about democracy.”

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.