Presuming it passes the House, the bill, H.R. 51, will fall into the black hole of Mitch McConnell’s Senate, never to be heard from again, at least in this congressional session. President Trump has already said he’d veto it if it ever came to his desk, and with the kind of candor he occasionally musters, he made clear why.
“You mean District of Columbia, a state? Why?” he said last month. “So we can have two more Democratic — Democrat senators and five more congressmen? No thank you. That’ll never happen.”
Unsurprisingly, his math is off — the District would have only one member in the House — but Trump accurately stated the reason Republicans oppose statehood. It’s a simple partisan calculation — and of course, race plays an enormous role. D.C. is 46 percent black, and Republicans feel no qualms about keeping its citizens from having the right to vote for Congress.
If D.C. voted reliably Republican, it would have been a state by now. Anyone who says otherwise is either fooling themselves or just lying.
It’s important that H.R. 51 is going to pass now, not only for the symbolic statement House passage makes but also because it sets the table to pass the bill through both houses and have it signed by President Joe Biden next year, should he win.
Like all the other Democrats running for president in 2020, Biden supported D.C. statehood; there’s a bill in the Senate with 40 Democratic co-sponsors. But as with the rest of Biden’s agenda, passing it would require eliminating the filibuster for legislation.
That’s a whole other complicated issue, but if and when Democrats get rid of the filibuster (assuming they control the Senate), D.C. statehood should be right near the top of their agenda. All it takes to add a state is a vote in Congress, not, as many assume, a constitutional amendment.
But oh, that’s merciless hardball politics! How dreadful! Yes it is. And it’s exactly what Democrats should do.
Democrats need to get over their fear that voters will punish them for being ruthless, and embrace their inner McConnell. What do you think he would do if there were two guaranteed Republican Senate seats just waiting to be created?
So yes, there’s a partisan interest at work. But it’s also the right thing to do.
Which brings us to an unfortunate truth: A big part of the reason we haven’t gotten closer to statehood for D.C. is that Democrats haven’t made an issue out of it. They’ll say they’re for it if you ask them, but most of them won’t bring it up on their own. They treat it as a nice idea we might want to think about someday, but they’re not in any hurry to do anything about it.
I don’t have a good explanation why, but while Democratic wimpiness is sometimes overstated, in this case it seems like the most likely culprit.
Without that elite leadership, even Democratic voters are lukewarm on statehood. But if the party’s leaders started aggressively advocating for it and made it a priority, their voters would follow. They need to stop worrying that people on Fox News will criticize them for it and just do what needs to be done.
Republicans will make all kinds of weak, absurd and downright idiotic arguments for keeping full voting rights from 700,000 Americans; Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said Thursday that statehood would mean “giving Washington more power in Washington." We all know that if anyone’s going to get more power in Washington, it should be, say, the oil industry, which has given Brady about $2 million over his career, or maybe Wall Street, which has given him a quarter of million dollars just for his current reelection campaign.
Or on the other hand, perhaps “power in Washington” should be shared by all Americans. At least we can try. And a good step in that direction is to at long last make D.C. a state.
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