DC statehood bill passes House, but Senate hopes are dim

Senate filibuster seems likely to all but doom the bill’s chances

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton holds a card on the House steps with the final vote count after the House passed HR 51 on Thursday. The legislation would create the new state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, with one representative and two senators.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton holds a card on the House steps with the final vote count after the House passed HR 51 on Thursday. The legislation would create the new state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, with one representative and two senators. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted April 22, 2021 at 12:15pm

The House passed a bill Thursday that would make Washington the 51st state, but the bill’s journey is far from over.

Democrats held together to vote in favor of D.C. statehood, and no Republicans crossed party lines to join them. It marked a day of celebration for some, but advocates know there’s work to do to convince a gridlocked Senate to pass the bill. 

Washington Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who wore a mask with a map of the District and a “51” emblazoned on it, watched over the vote as it took place, giving some pandemic-friendly fist bumps to a few members.

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When the bill passed, a single cheer could be heard from the gallery. But the celebration felt muted, as advocates faced the reality that the bill faces an uphill battle against the Senate filibuster. 

While the Senate bill already has 44 co-sponsors, it would require bipartisan support to overcome the 60-vote threshold. And even some Senate Democrats have yet to say whether they would support it.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, who argued for the bill during debate on the House floor, said a backlog of legislation is starting to build in the Senate and statehood may not be the bill to break the dam. But it might be a consideration if Democrats were to eliminate the filibuster, he said. 

“At a certain point, the Senate has got to stop being an impediment to political and social progress for our people,” the Maryland Democrat said.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a bill co-sponsor, lauded the House action in his remarks on the floor Thursday morning, citing District residents’ tax payments and military and jury service as credentials in favor of statehood.

The debate over D.C. statehood has "taken a rather dark turn," he said, accusing Republicans of failing to put up a meritorious argument against statehood and instead denigrating the District's residents, nearly half of whom are Black.

"Bigotry, bigotry, bigotry," Schumer said. "I shouldn't have to remind my colleagues that it's shockingly inappropriate to imply that lives and occupations and rights of D.C. residents are somehow less than their fellow citizens in other more ‘real’ and almost always more white parts of the country."

He tied GOP opposition to D.C. statehood to the wave of proposals in state legislatures to restrict voter access or roll back expanded voting options put in place for the 2020 election.

"D.C. statehood, unfortunately, is part of a continuing threat of not allowing people their right to vote, to representation," Schumer said.

But Schumer didn’t say when or if he would bring up the bill for a vote during his speech, saying only, "D.C. statehood is an idea whose time has come."

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.