House Democrats approved a bill to admit Washington, DC, as a state on Friday, marking the first time either chamber of Congress has advanced a DC statehood measure.
The bill, introduced by DC’s nonvoting House member, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, would shrink the federal capital to a small area encompassing the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and other federal buildings along the National Mall. The rest of the city would become the 51st state, named the Washington, Douglass Commonwealth after abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
The bill passed with a vote of 232-180. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota was the only Democrat to join Republicans in voting against it. Independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan also voted no.
The bill would grant DC two senators and make the existing sole House representative a voting member.
It is unlikely to gain traction in the Republican-held Senate, however, and the White House said this week that President Donald Trump would veto the bill if it came to his desk.
Trump told the New York Post in an interview last month that DC statehood will “never happen unless we have some very, very stupid Republicans.”
“DC will never be a state,” Trump said in the interview. “You mean District of Columbia, a state? Why? So we can have two more Democratic — Democrat senators and five more congressmen? No thank you. That’ll never happen.”
Democrats in recent weeks have argued the necessity for statehood has never been clearer, after the Trump administration mobilized federal law enforcement to respond to protests about systemic racism in policing. They expressed outrage with the decision to forcibly clear peaceful protesters from outside the White House earlier this month, which was done to allow Trump’s photo op at St. John’s church.
“Not only do we not have voting senators and our congresswoman not have the right to vote, the whims of the federal government can encroach on our even limited autonomy, and it can do so in ways that are threats to all of the American states and all of the American people,” Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said Thursday. “Let’s fight back against the cries that we’re too liberal or we’re too black or there are too many Democrats. Who we elect is our business, and the business of America is to make sure that each person is represented fully in this House and in the Senate of the United States of America.”
Proponents of making DC a state also point to the area’s large population, which surpasses the populations of Wyoming and Vermont. As of June 2019, DC had more than 705,000 residents, according to estimates from the US Census Bureau.
To become law, the bill’s supporters argue it would only have to pass both chambers of Congress with a simple majority and then be signed by the President. They say the legislation’s strategy of resizing the capital area would sidestep constitutional questions about making the rest of DC a state. But Republicans who oppose DC statehood maintain that adding the district as a state would require a constitutional amendment.
During House floor debate on the bill, Republican Rep. Gregory Murphy of North Carolina argued for Congress to cede the land back to Maryland instead of making DC its own state.
“The move is simply unnecessary when ceding DC back to Maryland is a viable, cost-effective and common sense option,” Murphy said.
And Georgia Republican Rep. Jody Hice said DC statehood goes against public opinion and the Constitution.
“What this is really all about is an attempt to get two more Democratic senators,” he claimed.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed back in her floor remarks: “Statehood for the district is about showing respect for our democracy,” she said. “It’s not just about the district. It’s about democracy for the American people and for our US Constitution.”