The House Oversight Committee on Tuesday advanced legislation to make the District of Columbia the 51st state, marking the first vote in Congress in nearly 30 years to grant full congressional representation for residents of the nation’s capital.
The panel approved the bill in a 21-16 party-line vote. The measure is expected to hit the House floor in the coming months.
The vote marked a major victory for the District’s non-voting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has pushed for statehood since she began serving in Congress in 1991.
“Congress has two choices: It can continue to exercise undemocratic authority over 700,000 American citizens who live in the nation’s capital, treating them in the words of Frederick Douglass, as ‘aliens, not citizens, but subjects.’ Or it can live up to the nation’s promise and ideals,” Norton said.
Proponents of D.C. statehood note that the city has more residents than two states — Vermont and Wyoming — and that Census Bureau estimates show about 46 percent of the District’s roughly 706,000 residents are African American.
After the panel approved the bill, Norton enthusiastically high-fived House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has pledged to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote. And unlike the last time the House considered D.C. statehood, in 1993, the bill is expected to pass with widespread Democratic support.
Norton’s bill has 223 co-sponsors, more than the minimum of 218 needed to pass legislation in the House. She reached the 218 threshold in September around the same time the Oversight Committee held its first hearing on the issue since 1993.
“It is in the Democratic platform of our party, but much more importantly than that, it is the constitutional right of a citizen of America to have a vote. And just because they move to their nation’s capital that vote should not be taken away from them,” Hoyer said Tuesday.
Democrats’ embrace of D.C. statehood is a major shift from the last time the issue hit the House floor in 1993, when the party also controlled the chamber. At that time, the Democrat-controlled House rejected Norton’s statehood bill on a vote of 153-277.
Democrats were split on D.C. statehood in 1993, with 151 voting in favor of Norton’s bill at the time while 105 opposed it. Only one Republican voted for the bill.
Norton’s bill would grant D.C. representation in Congress with two senators and at least one House member.
Currently, Norton can vote at the committee level — as she did for her bill on Tuesday -— but she cannot cast votes on the House floor.
Her bill would maintain the District of Columbia as the seat of the federal government, but limit it to the areas where the Capitol, White House, Supreme Court and other federal buildings near the National Mall are located.
The legislation is likely to be a hard sell in the GOP-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has previously expressed opposition to granting statehood to the District, which would presumably elect more Democrats to Congress.
Republicans offered a series of amendments during Tuesday’s markup, including one that would require a constitutional amendment in order to make the District of Columbia a state.
They also pointed to the District’s long history of political scandal, most recently with Jack Evans resigning from the city council last month on the eve of an expulsion vote over a string of ethics violations. Evans filed to run for his old seat just days later.
“It’s not about which party senators may or may not come from if the District of Columbia were a state. It’s about the Constitution. It’s always what it’s been about,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) as he noted the Constitution calls for Congress to have authority over the district serving as the seat of the federal government.
“The bill puts the new federal enclave entirely within and subject to the influence of the new state,” he added.
The House passed legislation last year endorsing the idea of D.C. statehood without formally establishing the District as a state.
Democrats’ overarching voting rights and anti-corruption bill, which passed along party lines shortly after they took over the House majority, includes a provision stating that “District of Columbia residents deserve full congressional voting rights and self-government, which only statehood can provide.”