The District’s Democratic cheerleaders will make a pitch for statehood Wednesday on Capitol Hill and formally deliver the city’s petition to become the 51st state to Congress — a goal that seems far out of reach in the GOP-controlled body.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting delegate, will introduce a bill to make D.C. the 51st state, with one representative and two senators in Congress. Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) will introduce identical legislation in the Senate.
At the same time, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson will formally petition Congress for statehood at the direction of District voters who overwhelmingly approved a referendum on the issue in November.
But their efforts have a quixotic dimension: Republican leaders in Congress have made it clear in recent weeks that they are uninterested in ceding more autonomy to the District.
In fact, they have taken steps to ramp up more oversight and control over the federal district, with plans to loosen the city’s gun laws, as well as an attack on the city’s newly enacted assisted-suicide law and its use of local funding to cover abortion services for poor women. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has also said he wants to block the city’s plan to use local tax money to help undocumented residents fight deportation.
At a January hearing, Chaffetz said members are bound by a constitutional “duty and obligation” to oversee District affairs. At one point, he suggested lopping off part of the District and folding it into Maryland.
The District has a population of more than 672,000 — larger than that of Vermont or Wyoming — and its residents pay more in federal taxes than do those in 22 states. But D.C. residents have no voting representation in Congress and federal lawmakers on Capitol Hill retain ultimate authority over the District, able to overturn city laws or even to nullify the results of ballot measures passed by local voters.
Norton’s bill is similar to one she filed in the last session that eventually got 133 co-sponsors, although none were Republican. If Norton’s bill were to succeed, it is widely expected that the city would send three Democrats to Capitol Hill, something Republicans would not welcome.
“It’s politically unpalatable because even a single Democratic vote they do not want to enable,” she said in an interview.
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) did not respond to requests for comment.
After a private meeting with Trump in December, Bowser called Trump a “supporter” of the District but declined to say whether she pressed the case for D.C. to become the 51st state.
In an interview with The Washington Post’s editorial board in March, Trump said he had “no position” on the issue of D.C. statehood.
“I think statehood is a tough thing for D.C. I think it’s a tough thing. I don’t have a position on it yet. I would form a position. But I think statehood is a tough thing for D.C.,” the then-candidate for the Republican nomination said. “I think it’s just something that I don’t think I’d be inclined to do. I’d like to study it. It’s not a question really. . . . I don’t see statehood for D.C.”
In President Barack Obama’s second term, his armored limousine was outfitted with the District’s “Taxation Without Representation” license plates. Trump has kept the plates, but its unclear if he favors voting rights for the city.
The White House did not respond to messages seeking comment Monday.
District voters have given Trump little incentive for any favors. Just 4 percent of voters chose him over Democrat Hillary Clinton in November. It was among the worst showings for Trump nationally and the worst showing for a Republican in the District since residents won the right to vote for president in the 1960s.
Norton said statehood would be a difficult path even without Trump in the White House.
“To tell you the honest to goodness truth, the challenge with Trump in office is no different than if Hillary Clinton had been elected except for one,” she said. “She would have been an enthusiastic supporter of statehood from the bully pulpit.”
With GOP leaders resistant to giving D.C. more autonomy, the statehood bill has largely served as protest legislation. The Senate did hold a hearing on the matter in 2014 when Democrats controlled the chamber.
Norton, who is barred as a congressional delegate from lobbying, said the referendum was a good start, but Americans need to be educated about the city’s plight through a social media campaign.
“Why should we get the votes in Congress when there’s no pressure? Voters are not even aware of our status as second-class citizens,” she said.
Norton, Carper, Bowser and Mendelson will appear at a news conference Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill.