The House of Representatives voted yesterday to make the US capital Washington the nation’s 51st state, but the historic effort is widely expected to fail when it reaches the Senate.
More than 712,000 people live in the District of Columbia, a Democratic stronghold with a population greater than two states and comparable to two others.
Supporters of statehood have framed their cause as an effort to end a glaring American civil rights violation.
The city’s residents fight and die in US wars and face a higher federal tax burden than people in the 50 states.
However, while Washingtonians can cast ballots in presidential elections, they are denied votes in Congress.
Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky said: “That is the definition of taxation without representation.”
The House voted along strict party lines, 216 to 208, with no Republicans supporting the appropriately numbered measure HR 51.
It was the second time the initiative received a vote in Congress.
The measure passed the House in 2020 but died in the Senate.
“This is about democracy. It’s about self-government. It’s about voting rights,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted after the House vote. “I was proud to re-introduce this bill in the Senate, and we are working to make #DCStatehood a reality.”
Currently, Washington, DC, has only one member of Congress – a House “delegate” who is not allowed to vote on legislation.
If the city became a state it would maintain its three electoral votes, which are used in the presidential election process.
States’ electoral votes are based on population.
Passage however is highly unlikely in the Senate, where Democrats hold majority power but Republicans occupy half the seats.
To overcome blocking tactics, 10 Republicans would need to join all Democrats in support for the statehood measure to reach Biden’s desk.
No Republicans are publicly in favour.
Like many Republicans, congressman Ben Cline says the statehood push is a “power grab” aimed at adding two Democrats to the Senate.
“This is about government-run healthcare, a $93tn Green New Deal, packing the Supreme Court, higher taxes and a bigger, less efficient form of government,” said Republican Representative Nancy Mace during a spirited House debate.
Democrats, who have been advocating statehood for the capital of the United States for decades, hope to take advantage of last November’s election of President Biden as well as control of the Senate and House to admit a new state for the first time since 1959, the year Alaska and Hawaii joined the union.
The new state would be named “Washington, Douglass Commonwealth” after George Washington, the first US president, and Frederick Douglass, a former enslaved person who became a famous abolitionist.
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