House Democrats say they want to make a point on Friday by voting to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state even though the legislation is doomed.
For decades, Washington, D.C., license plates have bemoaned the District of Columbia’s lack of statehood, reminding viewers in bold blue letters of its “taxation without representation.”
Despite having a population larger than that of Vermont or Wyoming, the District’s 700,000 residents don’t have anyone voting for their interests on the floor of the House or the Senate.
The bill scheduled for action on Friday, sponsored by the District’s nonvoting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has over 220 co-sponsors and is expected to sail through the House. The vote was announced last week by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
Norton said her bill holds personal, as well as political, meaning.
“My great-grandfather, who walked away from slavery in Virginia, got as far as the District of Columbia — got to freedom, but not to equality,” she tells “All Things Considered’s” Ari Shapiro. “And so what I think of this bill, at least for my family: I dedicate it to my great-grandfather, Richard Holmes.”
Friday marks the first time since 1993 that Congress has voted on D.C. statehood, an issue that has been debated for decades.
Norton remembered serving in Congress during that vote.
“We got more votes, by the way, than we thought we would,” she told Shapiro.
Continued Norton: “It failed then because the House was dominated by Southern Democrats who tended to be conservative on many issues. We were pleased to have them as Democrats, but we could not pass that bill. … So times change, and they have changed remarkably, and they are ready now, it seems certainly in the House, to make the District the 51st state.”
Today’s Democrats have tried to play up what they call their emphasis on voting, representation and racial justice, all of which underpin the political strategy on the D.C. statehood vote.
The passage in the Republican-controlled Senate is another story.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told TV host Laura Ingraham last year that any Democratic push for D.C. statehood is “full-bore socialism on the march in the House” and that “as long as I’m the majority leader of the Senate, none of that stuff is going anywhere.”
President Trump has also scoffed at statehood efforts, telling The New York Post in May: “Why? So we can have two more Democratic — Democrat senators and five more congressmen? No, thank you. That’ll never happen.”
On Wednesday, the Trump administration issued a statement formally opposing Norton’s bill and vowing that if the bill ever reached the president’s desk, he would veto it.
Robert C. White Jr., who serves as one of the District’s at-large councilmembers, said the disenfranchisement of the District’s residents should supersede partisan politics.
“We pay taxes like every other American state. We fight and die in wars like residents of every state. And we deserve the same opportunity to have a voice in how our nation is governed,” White tells NPR.
White said that even if statehood doesn’t get a vote in the Senate this year, he believes the bill’s passage in the House would represent a significant step forward.
“The D.C. statehood bill passing the House will elevate the profile of this issue, and as more Americans realize how uniquely disenfranchised D.C. is, I think it will increase the calls for D.C. statehood across the country,” White said.
A 2019 Gallup poll indicates a long road ahead in shifting national opinions on D.C. statehood: 64% of Americans surveyed said they thought the District shouldn’t be a state.
Want to know more about the District of Columbia’s history and how its self-governance changed over time? WAMU has you covered.