Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton called for making the nation’s capital the country’s 51st state on Wednesday, promising to be a “vocal champion” for D.C. statehood.
She blasted presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for failing to say whether D.C. residents should have the same voting rights as other Americans.
“In the case of our nation’s capital, we have an entire populace that is routinely denied a voice in its own democracy. . . . Washingtonians serve in the military, serve on juries, and pay taxes just like everyone else. And yet, they don’t even have a vote in Congress,” Clinton wrote in an op-ed published in the Washington Informer, an African American weekly newspaper.
Clinton’s piece comes about four weeks before D.C. residents go to the polls in the city’s presidential primary.
The former secretary of state has voiced support for D.C. statehood in the past, and so has Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), who last year signed on as co-sponsor of a bill to make the District a state.
But Clinton on Wednesday for the first time framed it as a presidential election-year issue and one that could fuel partisan debate into November.
Despite deep support for local autonomy, Republicans in Congress have said statehood for the District is a nonstarter because it would give the city’s Democratic majority two seats in the Senate, potentially tipping the balance of power in the closely divided chamber for years to come.
The District plans to hold a constitutional convention next month and put the question of statehood before Congress next year, which can approve it with an up-or-down vote.
The District has more residents than Vermont or Wyoming, and its residents pay more in federal taxes than those in 22 states but have no vote in Congress. Conservative members of Congress often use their authority to dictate social policy in the city by blocking locally elected officials from using local tax revenue to enact policies relating to abortion, guns and drugs.
Clinton wrote that “solidarity” with disenfranchised Democratic voters in the District was no longer enough. “We need a solution,” she wrote. “That’s why, as president, I will be a vocal champion for D.C. statehood.”
Clinton also used the issue to knock Trump, who told The Washington Post in March that he had “no position” on the issue of D.C. statehood.
“Of course, it comes as little surprise that Donald Trump hasn’t given this issue much thought,” she wrote, quoting the interview, in which Trump told The Post’s editorial board that “statehood is a tough thing for D.C.”
“Well, I think what’s been tough for the District is having virtually no say in its own affairs for decades,” Clinton wrote.
The forceful op-ed could easily allow Clinton to eclipse President Obama in support for D.C. statehood.
Despite promising to fight for D.C. voting rights during his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama never took on the issue in a meaningful way, to the dismay of many African American leaders in the city.
Obama alienated some D.C. residents when in 2011 he effectively traded away the city’s right to fund abortions for low-income women in a budget deal with House Republicans.
The statement from Clinton also appeared sure to embolden D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and other longtime advocates for statehood on the eve of a showdown with Congress over the District’s power to make more independent spending decisions.
For the first time this year, the city has warned it will not ask Congress for permission to spend billions of its own local tax money but instead go ahead and do so unless Congress acts to stop it.
The insurrection marks the first serious effort to win more autonomy since the 1960s, when D.C. residents demanded home rule as part of the civil rights movement .
Some influential House Republicans have indicated they will seek to block the District’s power grab and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has scheduled a hearing on the issue Thursday.