The House Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold a hearing on D.C. statehood on July 24, marking the first time in about a quarter century that the issue will be formally reviewed by a House committee, officials will announce Thursday.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, will hold a news conference Thursday to make it official.
When Democrats took control of the House in January, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said he would hold a hearing on the bill and work with leadership to make sure it gets a floor vote.
“We’re barely into a new majority and already we’re going to have a hearing before the end of the first year,” Norton said in an interview Wednesday.
The location of the announcement, at the D.C. War Memorial on the Mall — during Memorial Day week — is also sign ificant.
The 499 names on the marble monument represent soldiers who “died without any representation in the Congress or in the city itself because they’re from World War I,” Norton said. “Nothing could symbolize what we’re doing more than going to the World War I memorial.”
The announcement comes after several milestones bolstered advocates pushing to make the District the 51st state.
“Our continued lack of voting representation in Congress is a disgrace to the District’s servicemembers and veterans who call our city home, and it is a stain on our nation’s democracy that can only be fixed through statehood,” Bowser said in a statement Wednesday. “July’s hearing is an opportunity to educate Members of Congress and the American people on why we are more than ready to become a state. We are not asking for a handout — we are demanding for our fundamental rights as American citizens, and the rights for which many of our residents have fought and died.”
For the first time this year, statehood advocates sought the backing of national organizations. As of Wednesday, the bill had received 35 endorsements. Supporters include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club and the NAACP.
In the first week of the new Congress, the House endorsed the concept of D.C. statehood as part of a sweeping package of progressive declarations on voting rights, campaign finance and ethics reform.
At the same time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced her specific support for Norton’s statehood bill.
A few months later, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) touted statehood as one of his top three ways to bolster voting rights.
The issue of D.C. statehood has taken on new cachet in recent months as 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls embrace the cause as a civil rights issue.
Under Norton’s legislation, the District would have all the rights of the 50 other states — including two U.S. senators and, to start, one House member with full voting rights (which Norton lacks even when Democrats control the chamber).
The last time the House held a hearing on statehood, in 1993, it was followed by a vote, which failed 277 to 153, with support from only 60 percent of Democrats and one Republican. This time, the bill needs 218 votes to pass the House.
The bill has 204 co-sponsors, with no Republicans among them.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) is the only Democratic federal lawmaker in the region who does not support the legislation, although he has said that District residents deserve voting rights. Hoyer has said that it would be too complicated to delineate state responsibilities from federal ones if a state were created from most of what is currently the District of Columbia, as Norton’s bill prescribes.
Most Democrats running for president have said they support statehood, including Sens. Michael F. Bennet (Colo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Republicans have been hostile to Norton’s statehood legislation in part because if the District becomes a state, the city’s liberal voters would probably elect two Democratic senators, strengthening the party’s representation in the Senate.
Conservatives have also frequently tried to roll back or eliminate laws in the District with which they disagree, including publicly subsidized abortion for low-income women, legal marijuana and assisted-suicide measures passed by the city’s lawmakers.
Norton has acknowledged that the GOP-controlled Senate will not pass statehood legislation and has another strategy for inching the District closer to parity with the states: piecemeal reforms.
She wants to eliminate a 30-day congressional review period, during which lawmakers could alter or overturn laws passed by the D.C. Council, allow the District to prosecute local crimes and give the mayor the authority to deploy the city’s National Guard.
If the District is treated like a state, she argues, U.S. flags would be flown at half-staff when the mayor dies, as is done in states when governors die. U.S. district court judges, the U.S. attorney and U.S. marshals for the District of Columbia also would be required to live in the District.