Thirty years after Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton first presented the bill for the state of Washington, DC, returning to Capitol Hill to do so again – this time, with the broadest support to date.
“From the wish list, we have approached a new reality approach,” Norton, a non-voting district delegate, told NPR.
Its legislation, HR 51, will be the topic of a hearing by the Home Oversight Committee on Monday. It was approved by the House under the leadership of the Democrats ua historical voting last year, but never reached the GOP-controlled Senate. And although Democrats now have a small majority in the Senate, the measure faces long probabilities in the upper council.
The draft would reduce the size of the federal district and the state of Washington, the state of Douglass Commonwealth – in honor of the abolition of Frederick Douglass – accepted into the union. Lawyers claim that the goal of statehood is the fight for racial justice, as well most of the 700,000 inhabitants of DC people are skin colored.
“All we’re asking for is equality with other Americans, especially since we pay the highest federal taxes per capita in the United States,” Norton said, noting the two senators each state gets, along with House representatives with voting power – something it doesn’t have.
“Even when it only concerns the District of Columbia, everyone can vote for it, except the person who represents the District of Columbia,” she says.
“Brick Wall” in the Senate
With a record number of sponsors, Norton says the bill is a “guaranteed passage” in the House. The Senate version the bill has more than 40 Democratic co-supporters, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. President Biden has repeatedly pointed to support for DC’s statehood.
Without Republican support, the main obstacle to statehood lies in the Senate, and especially in the chamber’s legislative decision.
“Right now the Senate has a big brick wall in front of it called a filibuster that House bills go through and pile right on them,” says Eli Zupnick, spokesman for Fix Our Senate, a campaign aimed at removing filibusters. “If that brick wall isn’t dismantled, then there’s no chance at all of progress on any of these bills.”
Filibuster means there is a threshold of 60 senators to advance on the bill, meaning Democrats don’t have numbers to pass most laws without GOP support.
Most Democrats claim that filibuster has become a means of obstruction, which prevents them from adopting the agenda for which they campaigned and which the American people expect to continue.
“Eliminating filibusters is key to unlocking the door to any progress. That doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to make progress; you still need to find 50 votes for the problems you want to solve,” Zupnick says. “But if a filibuster exists, there’s no way at all.”
But others argue that filibuster protects a minority party.
Senate Minority Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Wrote an editor in Wall Street Journal last week warning Democrats to be careful what they want if Republicans take control of the Senate.
“As soon as the Republicans regain control, we would not stop erasing any liberal change that has harmed the country,” McConnell wrote. “We would strengthen America with all kinds of conservative policies with zero input on the other side.”
While some Democrats still oppose ending filibusters, there may be movement to reform the way it is used.
Advocating the elimination of filibusters points to its history when used to obstruct civil rights.
“Filibuster is a tool forged by segregationists to block civil rights accounts, maintain Jim Crow and maintain white supremacy. Over the years, it has blocked over 200 anti-lynching laws,” Zupnick says.
Norton says he believes the U.S. public connects the points between passing the law and removing the filibuster.
“The Filibuster is on its hind legs,” she predicts.
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“Grabbing power” by Democrats
The Republican exchange of messages about DC statehood has a common theme: Democrats are making an apparent “takeover” to change the composition of the Senate by adding two senators from a predominantly liberal electorate.
The day before House officially backed statehood last June, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Stepped onto the Senate floor to express his anger.
“What vital industries would the new state of Washington represent? Lobbying? Bureaucracy?” he asked. “Give me a break. By far the largest group of workers in the city are bureaucrats and other professionals.”
Cotton said that, Wyoming has a smaller population than DC, but Wyoming is a “well-rounded working-class state.”
It was a thorn that stung many county residents, including business owner Dionna Dorsey Calloway.
“You can’t see me, but I have an emotional reaction. My eyes are watering,” he says as he recalls his remarks. “You probably hear my voice tremble a little because – it’s just disgusting. It’s wiping out the entire population of people here in Washington.”
“You’re trying to deny 700,000 people access to voter representation and the opportunity to vote and give themselves votes to help themselves. It’s just contemptuous to me.”
“Stain on American Democracy”
Stasha Rhodes – manager of the 51 for 51 campaign, the national DC statehood campaign – remembers Cotton’s comments and a recent excavation in the district by Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.
“The center of America is not Washington, DC,” Sasse said in January. “Central America is a neighborhood where 330 million Americans raise their children and try to put food on the table and try to love their neighbor.”
“When teachers and librarians, doctors, nurses and postal workers hear Republicans say such things [that], it’s absolutely harmful, ”Rhodes says.
She says it’s as disturbing as she found Cotton and Sasse’s comments, 51 for 51 using them strategically.
“It is our responsibility as an advocacy campaign to somehow highlight inequalities, gaps in Congress and raise comments from Republicans who have proven they don’t care about democracy and are okay with locking 700,000 Americans out of democracy,” she says.
Using the hashtag #WeAreDC, the group shares the stories of DC residents from all walks of life to dispel the myth of the view that DC is just a political machine.
“Many Americans think of Washington as the Capitol or the White House or the National Center, but they often don’t think of the 700,000 Washington who don’t have access to the democracy that surrounds them,” Rhodes explains.
The lack of voting power in Congress for DC residents led to this keep your voter registration elsewhere, to have more words in the democratic process.
Rhodes says last year was full of events that showed the need for statehood: the district was initially exchanged pandemic relief; former President Donald Trump engaging the National Guard on DC residents during peaceful protests; i violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.
But Rhodes is quick to note that while these events are attracting national attention, the crux of the struggle for statehood relates to representation.
“From our perspective, leaving 700,000 residents, mostly black and brown, without a vote in Congress is racism,” she added. “DC residents pay federal taxes and serve in the military, but they don’t have the right to vote in Congress. This is an injustice and, frankly, a stain on American democracy.”
Want to know more about the history of the District of Columbia and how its self-government has changed over time? WAMU covers you.