Heard on the Hill

D.C. evokes spirit of 1776 in battle for statehood

‘We’re coming for what is due us,’ mayor proclaims

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser rides a bus with 51 military veterans to a Monday rally on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest ahead of this week’s House Oversight and Reform hearing on a bill that would make the District the 51st state. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton evoked the Founding Fathers to plead their case for district statehood while riding in a statehood parade to the Capitol on Monday.

The two D.C. political leaders were joined in front of the John A. Wilson Building, the seat of the District government, by high-spirited U.S. veterans from D.C. waving American flags with 51 stars and chanting “Fif-ty-one! Fif-ty-one!” The delegation then climbed onto a double-decker statehood bus for an 11-block trek that included a stop in front of Trump International Hotel.

As the bus crept toward the Capitol, curious pedestrians and reckless motorists pulled out their smartphone cameras to snap photos of the spectacle. One driver in a mint green Subaru even honked along to the rhythm of the “State-hood now!” chants.

The bus ride came ahead of a House hearing scheduled Thursday on Norton’s D.C. statehood bill.

The bill, appropriately enough HR 51, has reached the 219 co-sponsors threshold needed for a vote in the House, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi has strongly endorsed it. It would make D.C.’s eight wards a full state and give full voting power to its House delegate, along with two senators. The bill specifies that the Capitol complex and National Mall would remain under federal control.

Norton has introduced a D.C. statehood bill every term since coming to the House in 1991. In her first term, her legislation had no co-sponsors. In the next Congress, it picked up 81 co-sponsors — but ultimately flopped, 153-277, when it came to the floor in 1993.

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 16: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., conducts a rally on Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, with 51 military veterans ahead of this week’s House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on a bill that would make D.C. the 51st state, on Monday, September 16, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton speaks at Monday’s rally on D.C. statehood. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

No Republicans have signed on in support, however.

Many congressional Republicans see D.C. statehood or voting representation in Congress as a disadvantage to them, citing the District’s heavily Democratic voting patterns. 

Monday’s ended on Third Street, where Bowser and Holmes Norton addressed the young and mostly African American crowd decked out in white T-shirts emblazoned with “51.”

“I was born without representation,” Bowser said. “I will not die without representation. We pay taxes” like other states. “We fight in wars like they do,” she added, before citing the District residents who have died abroad fighting for democracy. “We’re coming for what is due us.”

Though no one dumped a box of mambo sauce into the Potomac River (that HoH is aware of), the veterans claimed the legacy of 1776 while making the case for statehood. One speaker called D.C.’s current “taxation without representation” nothing short of King George’s tyranny, which exists “until the 51st star goes up there” on the American flag.

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 16: Army veteran Bernie Siler, 67, installs a flag with 51 stars during a rally on Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, with 51 military veterans ahead of this week’s House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on a bill that would make D.C. the 51st state, on Monday, September 16, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Army veteran Bernie Siler, 67, installs a flag with 51 stars during a rally Monday on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Norton, not to be outdone, was in a feisty mood.

“You’re damn lucky we didn’t take this bus to the steps of the Capitol,” she said.

When asked what happens once the bill passes the House and reaches a Senate controlled by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell,  Norton said, “He won’t be there much longer.” The Kentucky Republican is up for reelection in 2020.

The afternoon was not without contradiction. During the Pledge of Allegiance, one woman insisted, “Nope, I don’t do that.” This woman was wearing American-flag themed athletic leggings.

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.