On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill granting statehood to D.C. Of all those present, every Democrat voted in favor it, and every Republican voted against it.
It’s hard to overstate how dramatic a change this is. Before a couple of years ago, statehood was something even sympathetic Democrats would do no more than pay lip service to: Sure, nice idea, I’m for it, I guess, but let’s not be unrealistic. In 1993, the House voted on statehood, and 105 Democrats joined with all the Republicans (except one) to vote it down.
Today the situation is radically different. Support for D.C. statehood has become nearly universal within the Democratic Party, something every Democrat is expected to agree with.
Even Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), one of the few holdouts in his party, recently said, “I want to see the pros and cons, so I’m waiting to see all the facts.”
That’s an important way to frame the issue: For the first time, we may be able to have a genuine, extended, detailed debate on statehood for D.C., in which arguments get presented and challenged. That will make it harder for both Democrats and Republicans to avoid addressing the issue’s substance.
Here are five of the dumbest ones:
D.C. doesn’t have enough people. This is something Republicans actually say. But there are more Americans living in D.C. than in Wyoming or Vermont. And I’m sure Democrats would be happy to exclude states from the union by virtue of being too small; perhaps we could combine Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and both Dakotas into one nice Republican state (with only two senators) with a population of about 5 million, or one-eighth the size of California.
D.C. has the wrong kind of people. As Cotton said, “Wyoming is a well-rounded working-class state” that has mining and logging jobs, and since D.C. doesn’t, it doesn’t deserve to be a state. There are also supposedly too many “bureaucrats” who live in D.C. This presumably means that we should audit every state to see whether their distribution of job categories is sufficiently rugged, and then expel those that don’t measure up. Also, aren’t states supposed to be distinct and unique?
D.C. is corrupt and mismanaged. To prove this, Scalise, who hails from what is often considered the most corrupt state in the Union, cites the tenure of former D.C. mayor Marion Barry. But Barry left the mayor’s office 22 years ago. The fact that he’s the politician Republicans always bring up to say that D.C. is unworthy of self-governance is awfully revealing. As for its management, in the most recent fiscal year, D.C. ran a budget surplus of over $500 million despite challenges presented by the pandemic.
The Framers didn’t want D.C. to be a state. This is neither true nor particularly relevant even if it were. The Constitution provides for a district “not exceeding ten miles square” to be the seat of government; it doesn’t say anything about the area around it. The proposal for statehood would shrink the federal area to the portion of D.C. where the Capitol, the White House, the Supreme Court and most of the key federal buildings are located, and make the rest of D.C. a state, maintaining a governmental district as required in the Constitution.
As for the Framers themselves, they built our system to allow for change, and they certainly weren’t dumb enough to think that they knew exactly what America would be like, and would need, 250 years later. Nor did they envision a time when D.C. would have a disenfranchised population significantly larger than that of any of the 13 colonies in 1776.
D.C. statehood is just a Democratic power grab. This is really the heart of the matter — and it’s a charge that dissolves upon scrutiny.
Throughout U.S. history, states have been added to the Union because they benefited the party that pushed them through; statehood was always political. Historian Heather Cox Richardson explains the addition of six states in 1889 and 1890 as follows:
This addition of 12 new senators and 18 new electors to the Electoral College was a deliberate strategy of late-19th-century Republicans to stay in power after their swing toward Big Business cost them a popular majority.
There aren’t two Dakotas because they had such unique cultures and histories; Republicans had the opportunity to enhance their power, so they did.
Would it politically benefit Democrats if D.C. became a state? Of course. Are they motivated to consider it now because they’ve grown more infuriated with the way the system enables Republicans to wield power with only minority support from the public, especially given that the Senate’s 50 Democrats represent nearly 42 million more Americans than its 50 Republicans? Absolutely.
But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still wrong to deny 700,000 Americans their political rights. That one party would benefit from ending that injustice makes it no less of an injustice.
There’s still one giant impediment in D.C. statehood’s way: the filibuster. But while we wait for that abomination to be eliminated, we can finally have a robust debate about the merits of statehood. Which means everyone will have to defend their position, and we’re closer than ever before to righting this wrong.