SWEEPING LEGISLATION passed by the House aimed at getting the influence of money out of politics and expanding voting access includes a general endorsement of statehood for the District of Columbia. The bill, championed by Democrats, has little chance of getting floor time in the Republican-controlled Senate, much less winning passage or being signed into law by President Trump. But it was the first time that a chamber of Congress has voted to support statehood, and that hopefully means the long-standing disenfranchisement of D.C. residents in Congress will finally get the attention it deserves.
The nonbinding expression of support for D.C. statehood is only a small part of H.R. 1, the anti-corruption bill that passed Friday on a party-line vote of 234 to 193, and which includes such measures as public campaign financing, automatic voter registration and ethics reform. The bill would not make D.C. a state but declares support for statehood to give D.C. residents full congressional voting rights and self-government.
Another bill, H.R. 51, has been introduced by Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting delegate, that would make D.C. the nation’s 51st state, carving out the premises of the U.S. Capitol, the Mall and monuments, and other federal property into an enclave that would remain under federal jurisdiction. The legislation has a record number of co-sponsors for a D.C. statehood bill, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, has committed to holding a hearing and markup this year, increasing prospects for House passage. It is, of course, a far different story in the Senate, where Republicans have no interest in a measure that, given the Democratic predominance of the District’s electorate, would likely lead to more Democratic seats in Congress.
There is a thorny — and maddening — history to efforts to deal with the District’s disenfranchisement. Congress in 1978 passed the DC Voting Rights Constitutional Amendment, which would have given the District voting representation in the House and Senate, but the measure failed to get the required ratification from 38 states in the seven-year time limit set by Congress. A federal lawsuit brought by D.C. residents to gain voting rights was rejected by a federal appeals court in 2000, and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case on appeal. A promising and pragmatic bipartisan effort to give the District a voting member in the House, balanced against an additional seat for the traditionally Republican state of Utah, was sabotaged in 2009 by inclusion of a poisonous amendment that would have overturned the city’s gun-control laws.
It is wrong that the more than 700,000 people who live in the District, paying taxes and fulfilling all the other obligations of citizenship (including going to war), are denied a voice in Congress. It is time for them to be heard.