On Wednesday, with protests of the killing of George Floyd in police custody captivating Washington and much of the nation, he clarified that a vote would still happen.
“President Trump’s behavior in the District of Columbia in recent days . . . has underscored in dramatic terms the urgency of giving the District the same constitutional rights and authorities that the nation’s 50 states have had since 1789,” he said in a statement.
After the initial days of demonstrations in the nation’s capital, which were mostly peaceful but included some looting, the Trump administration floated the idea of taking control of the D.C. police, city officials confirmed this week.
Attorney General William P. Barr ordered the clearing of streets near the White House, leading to the use of smoke canisters, riot shields and projectiles against the gathered crowds. And the president activated the D.C. National Guard, which unlike guards in all 50 states and three territories is always under federal control.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has pushed back strongly against the prospect of a takeover, telling reporters on multiple days this week that the possibility shows the importance of statehood and full self-governance for the city of more than 700,000 residents.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, said Hoyer’s statement sends a strong message about that cause.
“What we see happening with respect to these demonstrations would certainly be different if D.C. were a state,” she said in an interview. “We don’t see federal officials trying to take over what is happening in [neighboring] states.”
Hoyer was one of several lawmakers to link the cause of statehood to the federal response to the protests in the nation’s capital.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) simply tweeted “D.C. statehood,” to which Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) replied, “Now.” Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), Sen Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) weighed in on Twitter as well.
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. Residents would elect two senators and a representative to Congress.
The bill, which has more than 200 co-sponsors in the House, is likely to pass but could put moderate Democrats in a tough spot before the November election, forcing them to vote on a bill that Republicans see as an effort by Democrats to expand their ranks in the Senate.
Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have said as long as Republicans control the Senate, the bill will not get a vote there. The last time the House held a vote on statehood in 1993, it failed 277 to 153, with support from only 60 percent of Democrats and one Republican.