Gee, thanks, Joe!

Lieberman’s symbolic gesture didn’t have to be quite so empty. (AP/Ron Edmonds)

There are two weeks remaining in the 112th Congress, and lawmakers in that time will be doing little substantive work besides finding a way off the fast-approaching “fiscal cliff.”

But, hey, it’s a great time for symbolic gestures!

In that spirit, retiring Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced a bill Wednesday with three colleagues to grant statehood to the District of Columbia. Senate Bill 3696, among the last to go into the upper chamber’s hopper, would authorize D.C. residents to vote on the statehood question. With voters’ approval, the District of Columbia would become the state of New Columbia, with the exception of a small federal enclave encompassing the Capitol, White House and major federal buildings.

The bill is a companion to a House version filed by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) on Jan. 12, 2011 — that’s nine days after the start of the Congress.

According to a release from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the “New Columbia Admissions Act” is the first D.C. statehood bill to be introduced in the upper house since 1993. Said Lieberman in a statement: “As I retire from the Senate after having had the great privilege of serving here for 24 years, securing full voting rights for the 600,000 disenfranchised people who live in the District is unfinished business, not just for me, but for the United States of America.”

That sentiment is well and good, and Lieberman has a distinguished record of supporting and moving District priorities through the Senate, including the 2008 House Voting Rights Act. But supporters of D.C. voting rights are justified in feeling more than a little insulted by the measure.

While it’s highly unlikely a statehood bill would pass the Senate, the Democratic committee leadership might at least have scheduled a hearing on it to highlight the District’s status. (House Republicans certainly weren’t going to be scheduling one.) An 11th-hour introduction makes that impossible.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) co-introduced the bill. I asked Durbin’s office whether the Senate majority whip would commit to reintroducing the bill in the 113th Congress — and perhaps a bit earlier therein.

“Senator Durbin has supported statehood for Washington, DC for over 20 years,” said a spokeswoman for the senator. “He will support this bill’s introduction next Congress.”

The full news release:

SENATE COMMITTEE ON HOMELAND SECURITY &
GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS
CHAIRMAN JOSEPH I. LIEBERMAN, ID-Conn

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

[…]
December 19, 2012

SENATORS MOVE FORWARD WITH D.C. STATEHOOD BILL
INTRODUCE THE NEW COLUMBIA ADMISSIONS ACT

WASHINGTON- Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Senators Dick Durbin, R-Ill., Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., introduced legislation Wednesday granting Washington D.C. full statehood, including full voter representation in Congress for its residents.

The New Columbia Admissions Act, S. 3696, is the first D.C. statehood bill to be introduced in the Senate since 1993. It would create a 51st state called New Columbia. In January 2011, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-DC, introduced companion legislation in the House, H.R. 265.

“It is long past time to give those American citizens who have chosen the District of Columbia as their home the voice they deserve in our democracy,” said Lieberman. “The United States is the only democracy in the world that denies voting representation to the people who live in its capital city. As I retire from the Senate after having had the great privilege of serving here for 24 years, securing full voting rights for the 600,000 disenfranchised people who live in the District is unfinished business, not just for me, but for the United States of America.”

“It might surprise some students of American history to know that it wasn’t until the 1964 election that residents of the District of Columbia were finally able to cast a ballot for President and Vice President of the United States,” said Durbin. “Unfortunately, the disenfranchisement of these citizens is not yet a relic of history. More than a half century later, Washingtonians are still denied full voting representation in Congress. I first voted in favor of this legislation nearly two decades ago, and I will continue to stand with the people of the District until they are granted the voting rights that they deserve.”

“I am proud to join with Senators Lieberman, Durbin, and Boxer in co-sponsoring this long-overdue legislation,” said Murray. “Residents of the District of Columbia have been denied their right to fully participate in our democracy for far too long, and this legislation would finally give residents a voice.”

If passed by Congress, the act would allow D.C. residents to endorse statehood by a district-wide vote. New Columbia would include residential neighborhoods and business districts where the majority of D.C. residents live and work. It would not incorporate sections of D.C. where most government buildings and the Mall are located. That area would remain under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress as a federal district.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.
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Mike DeBonis · December 19, 2012