June 19 was the District’s day.
Assembled at the U.S. Capitol were the nation’s leaders. Finally, the city was being not just noticed but also recognized — and, even better, celebrated.
The life and work of famed D.C. resident Frederick Douglass was glorified with a magnificent statue by sculptor Steven Weitzman. Now, for the first time, a D.C. figure would stand in his rightful place alongside representatives of the 50 states in Emancipation Hall.
In her remarks for the occasion, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi made the essential point: “We know that a single statue is not enough. What Frederick Douglass and so many of us want is full representation in the halls of Congress.”
Then, another friend of the District, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, summed up our plight in these eloquent words: “As Mr. Douglass said, the District is the one spot where there is no government for the people, of the people, and by the people. ... Washington, D.C., residents pay taxes, just like residents of Nevada, California or any other state.”
Then came the big news:
“Washington, D.C., residents have fought and died in every American war just like residents of Ohio, Kentucky or any other state. The District deserves statehood and Congress should act to grant it.”
Here Reid did something highly unusual. Straying from his prepared script, he said he had “signed on” to the D.C. statehood bill.
This bill was introduced by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) on Jan. 24. Maryland Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin are co-sponsors, and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine has said he is “positively inclined” to vote for it.
But Reid’s action is what really counts. With this step, he is not just taking an interest in the issue or showing favor to the bill; he is sending a clear signal that the bill should move. No one should doubt that if it gets reported out of committee, Reid will seek a historic vote on the Senate floor.
It would be the first time that the Senate has ever voted on the issue.
Now, the caveats: I fully realize that any bill before the Senate can be filibustered, and that passing any bill these days almost always requires 60 votes. But there are 54 Democratic senators, and I’m convinced that at least two or three Republicans, and perhaps more, would vote to end debate. But even a defeat by filibuster would be a victory for the District, because it would show that the issue has arrived on the national stage.
What the D.C. statehood movement needs more than anything else is some air time.
So how do we get there?
The bill now sits in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — whose chairman is Carper. To date, no hearings have taken place. But after the dedication ceremony, Carper tweeted: “DC finally gets its own statue in Capitol with Frederick Douglass. The [Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee] to hold statehood hearing this fall.”
Apparently inspired by the moment, he even posted a picture of himself standing with the Douglass statue.
I know what the naysayers will say: Even if the D.C. statehood bill passes in the Senate, it will not be brought up in the Republican House. But what they miss is the extraordinary visibility that the issue will finally receive.
Now is the time for all of the District and its elected officials to emulate Frederick Douglass and, with ardor and passion, finish this journey.
The writer is political analyst for WTTG-TV (Fox Channel 5).
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