The House Will Finally Vote on DC Statehood

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The House of Representatives will finally vote on a bill to grant statehood to the District of Columbia, the New Yorker reported on Sunday. The bill, which has 200 cosponsors, will likely pass. But it will almost certainly die in the Republican Senate, where the idea of granting hundreds of thousands of American citizens who lack the democratic rights of every other person in the United States is a non-starter.

H.R. 51 will be introduced soon, the magazine reports, and is supported by all the presidential candidates in the Senate. It’s yet another proposal that would likely require eliminating the filibuster to actually achieve—something that so far the Democratic candidates for president in the Senate have been lukewarm about at best.

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Eleanor Holmes Norton has been the District of Columbia’s non-voting representative in Congress since 1991, and has introduced many statehood bills in that time. Now, 25 years after she introduced her first, she still won’t be able to vote on H.R. 51, but will at least get to see her signature issue be passed by the House—even if it will then die in the Senate.

As the New Yorker reports, there’s something of a divide in how Democrats discuss this issue: Do they focus on the injustice of DC residents lacking statehood and their lack of equal rights? That’s what Bernie Sanders wants to do, saying he hopes his “Republican colleagues do the right thing.” (Good luck with that.) Or do they embrace the fact that DC statehood would help Democrats, adding a state that tends to support the Democratic nominee for president? Elizabeth Warren, who called for DC statehood right at the start of her presidential campaign, told the New Yorker: “The Senate might be more responsive to American citizens. That’s how democracy is supposed to work.”

The fact is that any high-minded (and correct!) arguments you make about DC voters lacking their democratic rights won’t change Republican intransigence; they will never support anything that reduces their power even a little bit unless they’re forced to by political action. The status quo is disenfranchisement, and until something massive shifts, Republicans have absolutely no incentive to change their minds, however objectively correct the policy might be. So you might as well be honest about the benefits for the left’s priorities, from climate change to healthcare to abortion rights. If we get there, it won’t be because of Republicans suddenly seeing sense; it’ll be because they’re no longer in a position to block it.

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Libby Watson

Splinter politics writer. libby.watson@splinternews.com