For the second time in 10 months, the Democratic-controlled House on Thursday approved statehood for the District in a bill that will face strong Republican opposition in the 50-50 split Senate.
In a 216-208 party-line vote, the House passed H.R. 51. Six members did not vote.
The bill, which President Biden has endorsed, now moves to the Senate, where it will need support from at least 10 Republicans to meet the 60-vote threshold for passage. A similar bill approved by the House in June died last year when Republicans controlled the Senate.
The legislation would reserve 2 square miles of the city’s land as a federal district, including the White House, the U.S. Capitol and the National Mall. The remaining 66 square miles would become the 51st state and renamed Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, in honor of Frederick Douglass.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the city as a nonvoting House member, sponsored the bill and said that Congress has the moral obligation and the constitutional authority to pass it.
“This country was founded on the principles of no taxation without representation and consent of the governed, but D.C. residents are taxed without representation and cannot consent to the laws under which they, as American citizens, must live,” said Ms. Norton, a Democrat.
As a state, the District would receive one representative in the House and two senators — a major point of contention among the lawmakers during the floor debate.
Republicans argue that the measure is not actually about voting representation but is a power grab attempt by Democrats because the District is overwhelmingly votes Democratic.
“Let’s be clear about what H.R. 51 is all about: it’s about Democrats adding two new progressive senators championed by the squad into the radical, socialist utopia they always talk about,” said Rep. James Comer, Kentucky Republican.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, Virginia Democrat, countered by saying “how somebody votes cannot be a test of whether they have the right to vote in a democracy.”
Instead of statehood, many GOP members said the city could solve the “taxation without representation” issue by retroceding to Maryland.
House Majority Leader Rep. Steny H. Hoyer said he hoped his colleagues would vote based on the principle of voting rights rather than the likelihood of two new Democratic senators. The Maryland Democrat said the disenfranchisement of D.C. voters would “outrage” the Founding Fathers.
The Constitution created the District, not to exceed 10 square miles, as the seat of the federal government with land ceded by Maryland and Virginia — although Virginia later got its land back.
Under the Constitution, Congress received control of the District, and it limited the voting rights of city residents.
The 23rd Amendment, ratified in 1961, granted residents a say in presidential elections, but the city did not have an elected mayor or council until the Home Rule Act in the 1970s. Congress, however, still holds the authority to veto or overturn city laws.
In floor debate Thursday, Rep. Glenn Grothman, Wisconsin Republican, said the Founding Fathers would be “shocked” by the push for statehood. He said they wanted the District to be a federal city, noting that it lacks agriculture, manufacturing and natural resources.
Rep. Mondaire Jones called some of his Republican colleagues racist for their opposition to D.C. statehood status. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Black people make up 46% of the city’s more than 705,000 residents.
The New York Democrat said he “had enough of my colleagues’ racist insinuations that somehow the people of Washington, D.C., are incapable, or even unworthy, of our democracy.”
“One Senate Republican said that D.C. wouldn’t be a ‘well-rounded, working-class state’ — I had no idea there were so many syllables in the word ‘White,’” Mr. Jones said. “One of my House Republican colleagues said that D.C. shouldn’t be a state because the District 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.”
Mr. Jones agreed to withdraw the comments after Republicans requested that he take them back.