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Senate Panel Sets D.C. Statehood Hearing for Next Week

D.C. statehood advocates will be flocking to the Capitol on Sept. 15. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It took more than a year, but D.C. statehood advocates are finally getting the hearing that Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Thomas R. Carper promised .  

The Delaware Democrat will hold a full committee hearing Sept. 15 on his “New Columbia Admission Act,” a bill that would unite the eight wards of the city into a full-fledged state, excluding federal landmarks such as the Capitol, White House and Supreme Court. Carper introduced the measure in January 2013 and six months later tweeted about a fall 2013 hearing on statehood.  

During the August recess, there had been whispers among local activists that a mid-September hearing was in the works and committee aides confirmed a tentative time frame to CQ Roll Call. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who has been pushing statehood legislation since she came to Congress in 1991, trumpeted news of the hearing in a Monday afternoon statement. Rather than focusing on the year-long delay of the hearing, she said the first hearing on the issue on more than two decades highlights "a season of unusual progress for D.C. statehood."  

The Senate bill has 16 co-sponsors, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill. and other top Democrats in the chamber.  

Still, scheduling the hearing in the brief two-week window of Washington work before November's election could make it challenging to score any Republican support for the bill or lure any vulnerable Democrats into backing the measure. Louisiana's Mary L. Landrieu and Alaska's Mark Begich, the former and current chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel with jurisdiction over D.C., have both advocated for greater autonomy for the city. Neither is co-sponsoring Carper's bill.  

"We are 200 years overdue, so why wait any longer?" replied Shadow Sen. Paul Strauss, D-D.C., when asked if the timing was less than ideal. The Democrat who lobbies for the District, but is not formally recognized as a member of Congress, said he thinks the hearing is a good opportunity to shed light on the struggle for representation.  

D.C. statehood got a nod from President Barack Obama during a July town hall meeting in Northwest Washington.  

“I’m in D.C., so I’m for it,” Obama, then articulated his position on why the District should be the 51st state.  

Norton called support from Obama, Reid and Carper "a troika of leadership that demonstrates the growing strength of equal citizenship for D.C. residents.”  

The bill would give the nearly 650,000 citizens of the District voting representation in both chambers. A similar statehood measure got a House vote in 1993. Legislation to give the constituency a House vote passed the House in 2007 and the Senate in 2009, but was derailed in both instances.  

Statehood supporters have predicted the "New Columbia" bill could get a floor vote in the Democratic Senate, but doubt the House will take up the measure in the current political climate.  

A committee spokesperson told CQ Roll Call the witness list for next week's hearing has not yet been finalized.  

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