The US House voted to pass a bill that would make Washington, D.C. the nation's 51st state, a Democratic priority that will face an uphill battle in the Senate for final passage even as the party controls both chambers of Congress.
H.R. 51, the Washington, DC Admission Act passed in the House in a party-line vote of 216-208 on Thursday. Its fate in the Senate, however, is almost certainly doomed, given that overwhelming Republican opposition will make it next to impossible for the measure to cross the 60-vote threshold for passage, Xinhua news agency reported.
The legislation was introduced by Eleanor Holmes Norton, the sole delegate representing the District in the House who, because the District is not a state, may draft legislation but has no voting right in the chamber. A member of the Democratic Party, Norton has long been an advocate for DC statehood.
The Democrats, thanks to whose majority in the House the bill was passed in the lower chamber last year, have framed the long unresolved and controversial issue from the perspective of equal representation and voting rights, arguing that the status of "taxation without representation" for the total of over 700,000 Washingtonians should end.
"Taxation without representation" is on Washington license plates because residents pay taxes but are not represented with a vote in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted during a Wednesday news conference at which she wore a mask with the number "51" on it.
"Washingtonians ... pay taxes, fight in our wars, contribute to the economic life of our country. But for centuries, they have been denied their right to representation," the California Democrat said.
Republicans, who in the last Congress held a majority in the Senate, blocked the bill's advance in the upper chamber last year by denying a vote on it. They have argued that the legislation mounts to a partisan effort by Democrats to pursue a progressive agenda and tip the scales in Congress in their favour.
If it becomes the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth -- as dubbed by the bill to commemorate Frederick Douglass, a 19th century American social reformer -- Washington, DC, whose population is larger than that of Wyoming or Vermont, will have one voting representative in the House and two US senators.
"The Democrats' DC statehood scheme is about two things: consolidating power and enacting radical policies," House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy said Thursday on Twitter. "The American people see right through this blatant power grab."
The bill will leave places like the White House, the US Capitol, the Supreme Court and the National Mall out of the newly-created state, letting them remain as federal grounds and as the seat of the US government. The bill has already got the backing of the administration of President Joe Biden, whom 92 per cent of DC voters voted for in the 2020 election, compared to just 5 per cent who voted for then-President Donald Trump.
Congress should "provide for a swift and orderly transition to statehood" for DC residents to have full voting representation in the House and Senate, the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement on Tuesday, formally offering the White House's support for the Democrats' long-shot bid.
Census Bureau data showed 46 per cent of the District's residents are African Americans, potentially making the nation's capital the first state with a plurality Black population. That's why some advocates, including DC Mayor Muriel Bowser -- herself a woman of colour -- view the issue from the angle of racial justice and civil rights.
Noting that DC statehood has strong backing of the White House and that 45 senators have signed off on the legislation, Bowser in a tweet following the House vote urged "the 55 Senators who have not yet signed on in support of #DCStatehood to fulfill their responsibility to build a more perfect union."