Forty of 100 senators have announced they support D.C. statehood. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) strongly opposes the legislation and has said it will not get a vote in the Senate as long as he’s in charge.
“Statehood is the only way,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said at a news conference Tuesday morning, where she was joined by Hoyer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting representative in the House.
Making the District a state would not only give its 700,000 citizens of the nation’s capital a vote in Congress, Bowser said, it would also prevent National Guard members from other states from coming into the city without the city’s consent and could prevent the federalization of local law enforcement.
Pelosi called the political situation in the District “unjust, unequal, undemocratic and unacceptable.” Norton said statehood would “put an end to our oldest slogan: Taxation without representation.”
The officials said that the effort is not about partisanship but about citizenship. At the same time, however, Hoyer and others said “some” opposition to statehood over the years has stemmed from the perception of the District as “too Democratic, too black and too liberal” — an old shibboleth referring to the city’s voting patterns and its racial makeup.
“There’s no doubt in my mind if this were a Republican city and a white city that this would have happened some time ago,” Hoyer said in an interview Monday. “And it should happen. I’ve decided that this is the time to fully engage the reality of the moment as to whether we are going to treat people with the respect and dignity and the rights they should have under the Constitution of the United States of America.”
President Trump has said Republicans would be “very, very stupid” to allow the District to become a state, since its overwhelmingly Democratic voter base would be granted the power to elect two new senators and a voting member of the House.
Hoyer dropped his long-standing opposition to D.C. statehood last year and promised to schedule a vote on the statehood bill before this summer.
After coronavirus relief bills began to dominate the congressional calendar, he moved the deadline to the end of the year. But protests after the police killing of George Floyd — and denunciations of Trump’s efforts to seize control of the response from the D.C. government — thrust statehood back into the national consciousness, Hoyer said.
The announcement of the vote comes just over two weeks after federal authorities pushed peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square outside the White House before Trump traversed the area to pose for photos.
Bowser has since argued that the intervention illustrates the need for the District to become a state and control its own affairs.
“This blatant degradation of our home right before my own eyes offered another reminder — a particularly powerful one — of why we need statehood for the District. Another reminder that the fight for statehood cannot be separated from the fight for racial justice,” she wrote Sunday in an op-ed in The Washington Post.
The statehood bill, introduced by Norton, would shrink the seat of the federal government to a two-square-mile enclave, encompassing the White House, Capitol Hill, the Supreme Court and other federal buildings. The rest of the District would become known as the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.
Norton, with Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio), also introduced a bill this month that would designate Bowser as a governor and council members as legislators to emphasize that the District already operates as a state despite being denied voting rights.
The last time the House held a vote on statehood, in 1993, it failed 277 to 153, with support from 60 percent of Democrats and one Republican.
At the time, D.C. was grappling with a high murder rate and was on the verge of bankruptcy, and the statehood movement had far less support in Congress than it has today.