After the social justice demonstrations that followed the killing of George Floyd, the disputed 2020 election and the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, Democrats are pushing the statehood issue as a top civil rights and voting rights priority this session.
Norton (D-D.C.), the District’s nonvoting delegate in Congress, has proposed shrinking the federal district to a two-square-mile enclave of federal buildings — including the Capitol and the White House. The rest of the District would become the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, to honor abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
A spokeswoman for Norton said the hearing will include testimony on whether the District would be financially self-sufficient as a state, as well how the separation of the rest of the city from the federal enclave would work.
Because the federal government funds and provides some services to the District — mostly within its criminal justice and penal system — questions remain about how the District would re-engineer and pay for those functions. Norton and Bowser have insisted that the District, with a population of about 700,000, is financially prepared.
“The fact that more than half a million Americans living in the District of Columbia are denied representation in Congress is a historic wrong that flies in the face of the democratic values on which our nation was founded,” panel chair Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “This hearing will make that clear.”
In addition to Bowser, witnesses called by the Democrats will include D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson; the acting D.C. chief financial officer; Wade Henderson, the interim CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; a legislative attorney with the Congressional Research Service; and a military veteran. Republicans, who strongly oppose D.C. statehood, are also expected to call witnesses.
Republicans have long argued that a constitutional amendment would be required to make the District a state.
They took that position during the last hearing on D.C. statehood, in 2019, which preceded the statehood bill’s historic passage in the House in June.
Democrats are expected to push statehood through the House again this session, but the legislation faces significant hurdles in the Senate. Because of the Senate filibuster, statehood would need 60 votes instead of 50 to pass. Statehood advocates have urged the Senate to eliminate the filibuster, something not even all Democrats support doing.