U.S. House approves DC statehood bill; tough fight ahead in Senate

Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton, D-D.C., center, joined from left by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, ahead of the House vote on H.R. 51- the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton, D-D.C., center, joined from left by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, ahead of the House vote on H.R. 51- the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite

Georgia’s Jody Hice among most vocal GOP opponents

The Democratic-led U.S. House approved a bill Thursday to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state in the nation.

Voting along party lines with minority Republicans in opposition, the House approved the bill 216-208.

The bill, titled the Washington, D.C., Admission Act, would make the District the 51st state, with one representative and two senators. A tiny sliver of land including the White House, the U.S. Capitol and the National Mall would remain as a federal district. Instead of the District of Columbia, the new state would be known as Washington, Douglass Commonwealth — named after famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who lived in Washington from 1877 until his death in 1895.

The measure now heads over to the Senate where it will face a tough fight against GOP-led opposition.

The country’s founding fathers “never wanted D.C. to be a state and then specifically framed the Constitution to say so,” said Georgia Republican Rep. Jody Hice. “This is absolutely against what our founders intended, and it ought to be soundly rejected.”

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For lifelong statehood proponents such as Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington’s long-serving and nonvoting delegate in the House, Thursday’s vote was a culmination of a life’s work.

“My service in the Congress has been dedicated to achieving equality for the people I represent, which only statehood can provide,” Norton said Wednesday. “My life as a third-generation Washingtonian has marched toward this milestone.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Norton the “patron saint of D.C. statehood” and predicted the vote would “reaffirm the truth that all deserve a voice in our democracy.”

The measure has received strong support from President Joe Biden’s White House, which released a statement Tuesday calling Washington’s current status “an affront to the democratic values on which our nation was founded.”

Statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico became a divisive issue on the campaign trail last year, despite statehood for the island territory being part of the GOP platform. Republicans warned voters that the moves could create new reliably Democratic seats in Congress, including four in the Senate. Democrats have a razor-thin majority in the Senate, not enough to overcome a 60-vote filibuster for legislation if another D.C. statehood bill were to make its way from the House.

While D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser called on Capitol Hill to put a statehood bill on Biden’s desk within the first 100 days of the new Congress, she also continues urging lawmakers to separately rethink command of the D.C. National Guard, an issue that became central during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Congressman Hank Johnson talks about the discussions on delivering articles of impeachment on President Donald Trump due to the riots at the U.S. Capitol.

Unlike neighboring Virginia and Maryland, the District has no governor. Bowser had no way to unilaterally deploy National Guard troops under her own authority. Statehood advocates argue if Bowser had been able to command troops, the mob could have been dispersed more quickly or repelled entirely.

The White House has praised Washington as worthy of statehood, with “a robust economy, a rich culture, and a diverse population of Americans from all walks of life who are entitled to full and equal participation in our democracy.”

An identical statehood bill passed the House in 2020, but it quickly died in the then-Republican-controlled Senate. Now, with the 2020 elections leaving Democrats in control of both chambers and the White House, Republican senators may resort to a filibuster to stymie the statehood bill.

During a March hearing by the House Oversight Committee, a succession of GOP representatives claimed D.C. was unfit for statehood while calling the entire effort a cynical Democratic power play. Opponents proposed a variety of alternatives, from absolving Washingtonians of federal taxes to “retroceding” most of D.C. back into Maryland.

Contending that Congress lacks the authority to change D.C.’s status is a frequent point of attack against the proposal — even though every state other than the original 13 was admitted to the union via congressional vote. Statehood opponents say D.C. is a special case that requires special steps.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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