Congress

This time House Democrats might support D.C. statehood

Attitudes have changed since the chamber last voted on the issue in 1993

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D- D.C., has introduced a bill that would make the District of Columbia the 51st state. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s delegate to Congress, is hoping attitudes have changed in her own Democratic caucus about making Washington, D.C., a state.

She introduced a bill on Jan. 3 that would make the District the 51st state, entitled to a representative and two senators, and she now has 178 co-sponsors. But back in 1993, the last time the House voted on such a proposal — also put forward by Norton — 105 Democrats voted no, along with almost every Republican. The bill failed 153-277.

Norton is nonetheless making her case. She said in a release that she wants “to inform and remind Americans that over 700,000 of their fellow citizens who live in the nation’s capital are denied their basic democratic rights.”

And attitudes may have changed among her fellow Democrats, frustrated since 1993 by the election of two presidents without popular majorities (George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016) and a Senate that has given Republicans a governing majority even as GOP senators represent a minority of Americans.

In 1993, Democrats from Virginia and Maryland opposed statehood for D.C. for fear that the District would then impose commuter taxes on their residents. That practice is prohibited by the 1973 home rule law that gave D.C. a measure of self-governance — but could be revisited if D.C. were to gain statehood. 

This time, almost all of the representatives from surrounding jurisdictions are co-sponsoring Norton’s bill and Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, the Maryland Democrat, has said he will hold hearings and mark it up this year. If it comes out of committee, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat who voted no in 1993, has said he’ll bring it to the floor.

Another indication that the views of Democrats may have changed is that Norton was able to get language into the party’s highest priority bill of the new Congress (HR 1), a smörgåsbord of policy initiatives that would revamp campaign finance, ethics, lobbying and voting laws.

The nonbinding language would declare that Congress favors statehood for the District.

Flashback: As D.C. celebrates Emancipation Day, Holmes Norton pushes for statehood

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