The D.C. statehood effort got new life Thursday, when longtime skeptic House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer threw his support behind the idea and fellow Democrats pledged hearings to advance the issue.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Committee, said he has scheduled a hearing for July 24, marking the first time in more than a quarter century that the topic has gotten that far.
“This is a monumental step forward for equality and self-government for D.C.,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s nonvoting representative in Congress.
Mrs. Norton, Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city officials celebrated the announcement in front of the D.C. War Memorial, which they said symbolizes the sacrifices residents have made while lacking equal rights.
“We have had enough of second-class citizenship,” Ms. Norton said.
What’s more, the latest version of the D.C. statehood bill has 205 sponsors in the House and 33 in the Senate.
Mr. Hoyer’s backing is a major boost. The congressman, who has represented a suburban Maryland district abutting the District for decades, said in a Washington Post op-ed that he is reversing his longstanding wariness.
In the past, he supported a limited option that would have made the D.C. delegate a full voting member of the House, but he said he now feels that falls short of what the city deserves.
“Americans in the District have been denied not only a member with full voting rights in the House of Representatives but also two U.S. senators — simply because of where they live,” Mr. Hoyer wrote in the op-ed.
D.C. statehood was included the Democrats’ flagship election reform package, which passed the House in March.
The U.S. Constitution created the District as the seat of the federal government with land ceded by Maryland and Virginia — although Virginia later got its land back.
The Constitution gave control of the federal district to Congress, which immediately restricted the voting rights of its residents. The 23rd Amendment, ratified in 1961, granted city residents a say in presidential elections, and the city didn’t have an elected mayor until the Home Rule Act of the 1970s.
The D.C. delegate has no vote on the final passage of bills, but does sit on committees and, when Democrats rule, can vote when the House sits as a committee of the whole.
City leaders have long been irked by the arrangement, reflected in protest slogan on D.C. license plates: “Taxation without representation.”
Mr. Hoyer said the founders never envisioned the situation the city now faces, with hundreds of thousands of residents facing all the burdens of citizenship, without a full direct say in their federal government.
“Statehood would provide those in our nation’s capital with the best chance of attaining what residents of every other national capital in our fellow democracies enjoy: full representation in their national legislature,” Mr. Hoyer wrote. “Moving forward with the process of statehood would remove obstacles that have proven difficult in prior efforts to give D.C. residents the vote.”
The bill also has garnered support from over 30 national organizations, including the Sierra Club and the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Washington D.C. is one of the last colonies of the United States in the very seat of our federal government. It is deeply ironic that the people who reside in our nation’s capital, a symbol of American freedom and democracy throughout the world, lack full representation and self-government,” Monica Hopkins, executive director of the D.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.
The House Oversight Committee hearing would be the first on D.C. statehood since 1993.