(Fenit Nirappil/The Washington Post)
Opinion writer

Mitch McConnell has declared that the way for Republicans to keep power in 2020 is to repeat the word “socialism” over and over, then watch in glee as this magical incantation turns Democrats to dust. Pretty much anything Republicans don’t like will be called “socialism,” from things that do resemble socialism (single-payer) to things that don’t at all (automatic voter registration).

For now I want to focus on one particular socialist threat McConnell discerns: D.C. statehood.

In a recent interview with Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, McConnell laughed at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for referring to him as the Grim Reaper. “I am indeed the Grim Reaper when it comes to the socialist agenda that they’ve been ginning up over in the House," McConnell said.

Here was McConnell’s list of horrors that could come to pass if Democrats had power:

The Green New Deal, Medicare for all, and by the way, you may have mentioned this on your show, but they have planned to make the District of Columbia a state, that’d give them two new Democratic senators; Puerto Rico a state, would give them two more Democratic senators; and as a former Supreme Court clerk yourself, you’ve surely noticed that they plan to expand the Supreme Court. So this is full-bore socialism on the march in the House, and yeah, as long as I’m the majority leader of the Senate, none of that stuff is going anywhere.

McConnell suggested that D.C. statehood is an idea so preposterous that to even discuss it is insane. But it’s also revealing that to McConnell, all Americans having full representation in Congress is “socialism."

D.C. statehood is more of a live issue in Congress than it is for Puerto Rico — albeit one not getting the energy and attention it deserves.

So let’s begin here: If you have even the remotest commitment to the idea of democracy, there is simply no argument you can make for why D.C. should not be a state that is not laughable on its face. We should deny 700,000 Americans their full political rights because ... it would be hard to fit an extra star on the flag?

That’s not to say there aren’t arguments in opposition, just that they aren’t very good (the Founding Fathers intended it to be this way forever!). But we all know what the real problem is: As McConnell said, if D.C. became a state, then it would get two senators, and they’d inevitably be Democrats.

You’ll notice that McConnell doesn’t even bother to make an argument based on principle. It would be bad for his party and good for the other party, so it must never happen.

Of course, that’s perfectly in line with the broad anti-democratic agenda Republicans have been pursuing, which includes ruthless gerrymandering and an entire menu of voter suppression efforts aimed largely at keeping African Americans from the polls. And if you think that D.C. would have been a state long before now if it weren’t half African American, you’re probably right.

So what are Democrats doing about it? Now that they control the House, they inserted a provision into their political reform bill declaring support for statehood. And they’ll soon hold the first hearing on the issue in 25 years. It’s a start, but only a start.

Perhaps this is because they feel they can’t get past implacable Republican opposition, but the typical response from an elected Democrat to a question about D.C. statehood is, “Um, yeah, sure, of course, someday.” For instance, Bernie Sanders was recently asked what he’d do to make D.C. a state, and he replied, “I hope that my Republican colleagues do the right thing,” which is a way of saying, “I have no idea.”

Still, Sanders, along with the six other Democratic senators running for president, are all co-sponsoring the Senate version of a bill from Eleanor Holmes Norton, the nonvoting delegate from the District, to finally make D.C. a state. It would shrink the District of Columbia to the immediate area around the Mall (including Capitol Hill, the White House and the monuments) and out of the rest create the state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.

The four members of the House who are running for president are also co-sponsoring the bill. And every other candidate supports statehood as well.

But for years, most Democrats have acted as though it just wasn’t that much of a priority.

Contrary to what most people probably assume if they’ve forgotten their high school civics class, you don’t need a constitutional amendment to add a state to the union; a simple vote of Congress and the president’s signature is enough. There are some conservatives who argue that the particular circumstances of D.C. would require an amendment, but the argument isn’t all that compelling.

In any case, here’s one thing we can say for sure: If the 700,000 Americans who live in D.C. were mostly Republicans instead of mostly Democrats, they would have had their voting rights years ago. So if it should happen that in 2020 we elect a Democratic president and a Democratic-led Congress, the time for saying “someday” should be over.

Which is why the Democratic candidates ought to be asked: Not just do you support D.C. statehood, but if you’re elected, will you push for it and sign a bill to make it a reality? Right away? Get them on record now, and they’ll be forced to follow through.

Read more:

Kris Hammond: This unconventional proposal for D.C. statehood could use some Trumpian dealmaking

The Post’s View: The House finally voted to support D.C. statehood. It’s a needed step.

Joshua Burch: This is the only path to D.C. statehood

Charles Lane: The answer to D.C. congressional representation? It’s in Douglass County, Maryland.

Letters: D.C.: Statehood or bust