Senate Committee Holds Hearing on D.C. Statehood

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U.S.|Senate panel discusses legislation on statehood for Washington, D.C.


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Mayor Muriel E. Bowser encouraged a Senate committee on Tuesday to consider legislation that would make Washington, D.C., the nation’s 51st state.CreditCredit...Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Emily Cochrane

  • June 22, 2021

A Senate committee on Tuesday discussed legislation that would establish Washington, D.C., as the nation’s 51st state, after the House passed the measure along party lines earlier this year.

The legislation would create a state called Washington, Douglass Commonwealth — in honor of Frederick Douglass, the Black emancipation and civil rights leader — represented by a single voting representative in the House and two senators for its more than 700,000 residents, many of whom are people of color. Some government property — including the National Mall, the White House and Capitol Hill — would be left under federal control.

While the measure is unlikely to clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold given widespread Republican opposition and skepticism among some moderate Democrats, Senator Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware, pushed for the Homeland Security Committee to hold the hearing, just the second on the topic in the chamber’s history. He oversaw the first such hearing in 2014, when he served as chairman of the committee.

“Our nation’s capital is home to more than just monuments and museums; it is home to American families who go to work, start businesses, pay their taxes and contribute to America’s economic prowess,” Mr. Carper said as the hearing began. “As every Congress passes, we are failing these fellow Americans and coming well short of our founders’ rallying cry of ‘no taxation without representation.’”

Momentum for statehood has intensified since that inaugural Senate hearing, as advocates and allies of the movement have argued that making the nation’s capital a state would end the disenfranchisement of district residents. The pandemic underscored the disparate treatment of the district, which received less federal emergency relief through the expansive coronavirus aid bill than expected because it is not a state.

President Biden has also said he supports statehood for the district.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s lone nonvoting representative in the House, and Senator Joe Lieberman, an independent who pushed for the legislation during his time in the Senate, appeared before the committee to speak on the issue.

One Democrat on the committee, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, has not yet said whether she supports the legislation, although 45 of the senators who caucus with Democrats have signed on. Republicans have argued that the bill is unconstitutional, an argument that the White House has privately sought to counter with suggested changes.

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