Yesterday, in a statement released to the public, Biden announced that the White House supports D.C statehood. The memo, published by the executive office of the President, said the administration “strongly” supports the legislative push (H.R 51) to become the D.C area into a new state, saying the people from the city have long been deprived of full representation in Congress, while still paying taxes to the federal government.
Last week, Hosue Democrats presented H.R 51, the Washington D.C Admission Act, into the House Committee on Oversight and Reform for markup, when the committee votes on a recommendation of the bill to the whole floor. The bill received a positive vote from the Committee in a 25-19 vote along party lines and is expected to go to the full floor of the House for a vote in the coming days.
The Democratic party introduced the bill with great enthusiasm last month and it has become a deeply partisan issue in the halls of Congress, with Democrats arguing that allowing more than 700,000 American citizens living in the capital to not be represented in Congress was undefendable, while Republicans argued that the proposed legislation to be a naked power grab, as the reliably blue D.C would give Democrats two-extra Senators.
The American public, as the main parties, remains divided along party lines on the issue. A March Fortune|Survey Monkey poll finding out that 49% of Americans support giving state status to D.C, while 45% don’t. Additionally, Democrats overwhelmingly support the project (74%), while only 27% of Republicans think the same.
Interestingly, as an article of Fivethirtyeight explained, other sets of polls showed that public opinion regarding D.C Statehood could change depending on how the question was framed. A poll that talked about the issue as one of the equal rights for D.C residents showed 54% of support for the issue, while a poll that remembered those surveyed the constitutionality challenges of statehood lead to 55% opposing the measure.
As the issue continues to be discussed in Congress and enters the field of public opinion, both parties will likely continue to drill into the arguments that polls show favor them. With Democrats focusing on the lack of equal representation rights of D.C residents and Republicans raising concerns on the constitutionality of the bill.
An unlikely path to statehood
Once the bill comes to a full vote in the House of Representatives a simple majority would be enough to get it out of the lower chamber. Democrats currently control 218 seats to 212 Republicans, so they can afford two of their Representatives in any vote and still get their bill pass. Since H.R 51 currently has 216 cosponsors, we could safely expect that the bill would pass the House due to the Democrat’s majority.
However, the bill needs to also be approved by the Senate in order to get to the President’s desk. The Filibuster makes it practically impossible for Democrats to get their legislation through the upper house unless 10 GOP Senators agree with the measure, a tall order.
GOP Senators have already come against the measure, with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) being strongly against the bill when it was proposed in 2019. Other Senators have followed, with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) saying he was against the measure, according to Forbes journalist Andrew Solender. Although Sen. Liza Murkowski, one of the most moderates of the GOP, has said that she has not made up her mind on the issue, her vote would just leave Democrats 9 votes short for the bill to get approved.
Republicans, of course, would not support a measure that would most certainly give Democrats an electoral advantage in the Senate without. Democrats, on the other hand, would not support any alternative measures that would give DC residents representation in Congress while keeping them from becoming a full state, like retroceding the city to Maryland.
Democrats support the idea
If Democrats know they would not get their bill approved in Congress, then why are they pushing the legislation? Well, they might have three reasons: posturing, awareness, and making the case against the filibuster.
The first one is quite simple to understand, Democrats are setting themselves as protectors of the voting rights of a majority-black city, leaving Republicans to resort to convoluted constitutional arguments to defend the fact that American citizens are paying taxes while not having a vote. This type of rhetorical fight could benefit Democrats with their base, as they are more likely to strongly support this issue than Republicans.
On the other hand, it gives those Democrats who oppose the Filibuster a good test case of why the parliamentarian tactic should be eliminated. It could work as a good rhetorical attacking point against Republicans and even some Democrats who support the fillibuster, showing the former as obstructionists who would prevent Americans to have their rights for political benefits and the latter as naive politicians who are willing to sacrifice the vote of thousands to remain in good graces of Republicans.
Finally, by bringing the issue of D.C statehood to the public conversation Democrats hope they could make the case to the American people and convince them to agree with the necessity of adding D.C as the 51st state of the union. Which would give representation to thousands of Americans, and potentially the key two Senators to the Democrats in upcoming elections. If that strategy would work in deeply polarized America, however, remains to be seen.
Realistically speaking, D.C residents only have three ways to gain representation in Congress: being retroceded to Maryland (as some Republicans have proposed), getting statehood only if Democrats end the filibuster, or if there is a political prize big enough for Republicans to agree to give Democrats their 2 senators in D.C.
In the meantime, D.C residents will remain, regretfully, without a vote in their Congress.