The US House of Representatives voted on Friday to make Washington, DC, the 51st state in the nation yesterday, though the measure will almost certainly be rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate and President Donald Trump.
The historic vote – the first on the issue in 27 years – follows renewed focus on the status of the US capital, which has a population of 700,000 but no voting rights in Congress.
The issue is highly political and would involve a constitutional amendment. Conferring statehood on the District of Columbia would create two new Senate seats as well as House seats, which would almost certainly vote Democrat.
Washington, DC, which has a high black population, is one of the most Democratically-leaning districts in the country. More than 90 per cent of voters there backed Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Residents of the district have long complained of “taxation without representation” – a slogan that appears on car number plates across the city – and point out that the city’s population exceeds that of rural states such as Wyoming and Vermont, which each have two seats in the Senate.
The recent anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd have also shone a light on Washington’s unique status, after the Trump administration used its federal authority to deploy law-enforcement personnel over the wishes of the city’s mayor.
“All are created equal and all deserve a say in our democracy,” said House speaker Nancy Pelosi as she unveiled the Bill in the House.
But during the debate, House Republicans indicated their opposition to the proposal.
“This statehood debate is about politics,” said Georgia representative Jody Hice. “Our nation’s capital does not exist within one state, and therefore it is free from influence of any state . . . that is the intention of the constitution and our founders.”
He said DC was not “prepared financially or otherwise” for statehood.
North Carolina Republican Greg Murphy suggested that DC should be ceded back to neighbouring Maryland. “That’s where the land came from,” the Maryland congressman said, describing it as a “viable, cost-effective and common-sense option”.
But Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton – Washington DC’s delegate in the House of Representatives, who does not hold voting rights – said Maryland did not want to absorb DC.
Under the Bill, Washington DC would be renamed “Washington, Douglass Commonwealth”, in memory of the 19th century abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass, who lived in the district of Columbia.
While the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to take up the proposal, Democrats in the Senate voiced their support for the Bill.
“DC residents pay federal taxes without any voting members of Congress. It’s time for DC residents to have full representation in their government and make DC the 51st state,” said Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar.