Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) held a news conference to denounce statehood as an attempt to dilute the power of rural red-leaning states in the Senate. But they wanted a vote on the bill, saying Americans deserved to know which Democrats favor a movement that has polled poorly.
“This is not about enfranchising people,” Graham said of statehood. “This is about expanding the Senate map to accommodate the most radical agenda that I have ever seen.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he will not bring the legislation to a vote. His spokesman declined to comment on the calls from Republican senators to do so.
President Trump also opposes D.C. statehood, citing the likelihood of the deep-blue city electing two Democratic senators.
All but six senators in the Democratic caucus have co-sponsored statehood legislation: Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Angus King (I-Maine), Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
With the Senate unlikely to take up D.C. statehood, Senate Democrats on Wednesday afternoon held their own virtual hearing on the matter, where Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) reiterated that he would make the bill a priority if Democrats win control of the chamber.
Hours earlier, Republican senators painted a caricature of the District as a monolithic bubble of reporters, bureaucrats and lobbyists — even though 70 percent of the workforce is in the private sector.
“You get outside the Beltway and the craziness here of Washington, D.C., the American people agree with us,” said Daines, citing a 2019 Gallup poll that showed nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose statehood. “Sometimes I think it’s important for senators and congressmen, in fact, most of the time, [to] get out of this city and go out to where the real people are at across the country and ask them what they think.”
His comments drew rebukes from Democrats and those who live in the District, who objected to the implication that the city’s 700,000 residents, 46 percent of whom are black, are not “real people.”
Schumer denounced Daines’s comments as “dehumanizing” and “disgraceful.”
“Here is the truth — this city is home to hundreds of thousands of Americans, most of whom are black, who hold everyday jobs just like everyone else,” Schumer said. “They educate our kids and deliver groceries, care for our sick, work at restaurants and churches, and protect the people who work in the Capitol.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) accused Republicans of racist rhetoric in the debate. “This is the argument they make against D.C. statehood: that this largely Black community doesn’t qualify as ‘real people,’ ” she tweeted.
Graham invoked his fellow South Carolina GOP senator, Tim Scott, who is black, to push back on criticism that Republicans do not want a plurality black city to pick new senators.
“It has nothing to do with race; it’s all to do about power,” Graham said.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) called out Cotton for a Senate floor speech he made last month in which he derided D.C. statehood and said Wyoming — which has a smaller population than the District — is a “well-rounded working-class state.”
“He made very clear that Washingtonians are simply the wrong kind of people,” Bowser said during the Senate Democratic hearing on statehood.
Cotton doubled down Wednesday on his criticism of the District.
“The main thing it contributes to our national economy is influence-peddling, regulations and — no offense — tweeting by reporters,” Cotton said at the news conference.
Opponents of statehood say it goes against the Founding Fathers’s vision to have a seat of federal government free of state influence. They have suggested retrocession of the residential part of the city to Maryland to address the issue of congressional representation for D.C. residents, who pay more in federal taxes than nearly half of the states.
The strategy for D.C. statehood involves the support of Congress and the president, modeled on Tennessee’s entry into the union in 1796. It would preserve a limited area including the White House, U.S. Capitol and the Mall as the nation’s capital while the rest of the city would become a state.
D.C. officials acknowledge that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden needs to defeat Trump and the Democrats need to take control of the Senate for statehood to become politically feasible.
An advocacy group, 51 for 51, has been pushing for Democrats to commit to changing Senate rules to allow statehood legislation to pass on a simple majority vote without the threat of the filibuster, which effectively requires 60 votes to pass significant bills.