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Charles Schumer says D.C. statehood is a priority, a first for Senate Democrats

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) touted D.C. statehood on March 7.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) touted D.C. statehood on March 7. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday made D.C. statehood a priority for the Democratic caucus for the first time.

Schumer touted statehood among his top three ways to bolster voting rights, a day before the House is expected to pass a sweeping resolution on the topic that includes a call to make the District the 51st state. It would be the first time either chamber of Congress has endorsed D.C. statehood.

“Even though we don’t talk about it enough, we have a population larger than two states living here in Washington, D.C., without full congressional representation,” Schumer said in a Senate floor speech Thursday.

The developments provide a boost to longtime statehood proponents who have struggled to consolidate Democratic support.

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) announced his support for D.C. statehood last week, joining 28 other members of the Senate Democratic Caucus. In the House, a record 200 Democrats have endorsed the idea, along with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) remains the lone Democrat in the region’s congressional delegation who does not back D.C. statehood. He has said he will not block a vote from taking place.

Still, no Republicans have signed on to the measure in the House or in the Senate, which is controlled by the GOP.

But activists are trying to build support in the event that Democrats take back the Senate.

“A wave of momentum is sweeping across the country for D.C. statehood,” said Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting delegate in the House. “The strong Schumer and Pelosi endorsements, and the 200 co-sponsors in the House for D.C. statehood, are among the indicators that the American people want to right the historic wrong for over 200 years of disenfranchisement.”

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) is spearheading a bipartisan strategy for statehood that requires the support of local residents, Congress and the White House. She met this week with Republican Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

But Republicans remain opposed, wary of the likelihood that federal lawmakers elected by the overwhelmingly Democratic District will only add to the ranks of the other side.

The Constitution established Washington, D.C., as the seat of the federal government, but it has since grown to a city of more than 700,000 people who have no vote in Congress. The District is home to more people than Vermont and Wyoming, and residents pay more in federal taxes than roughly 20 states.

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