House Approves Legislation That Would Make DC a State

House Approves Legislation That Would Make DC a State
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) speaks during a press conference on the House vote on D.C. statehood, in Washington on April 21, 2021. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

The House of Representatives narrowly passed a measure on April 22 that would make the District of Columbia a state.

In a 216–208 party-line vote, the House approved the legislation, which would give the district two senators, one voting member of the House, and a governor if it’s also passed by the Senate and signed into law.

All Democrats backed the bill, while all Republicans voted against it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on the House floor before the vote that the chamber was poised to “right an [sic] historic injustice by passing legislation to finally grant Washington D.C. statehood.”

“D.C. residents have been fighting for voting rights and autonomy for 220 years, with a full 86 percent recently voting for statehood. And it is well past the time to grant them the rights that they have been fighting for and that they deserve,” she added.

H.R. 51, named to reflect that the District of Columbia would become the nation’s 51st state, was introduced by House Delegate Eleanor Norton Holmes, a Democrat. The district currently has three electoral votes, but Norton can’t vote on legislation.

“This country was founded on the principles of no taxation without representation and consent of the governed. But D.C. Residents are taxed without representation and cannot consent to the laws under which they, as American citizens, must live,” Holmes told colleagues in Washington.

Republicans said granting statehood to Washington runs counter to the Constitution.

“Every Justice Department from President Kennedy’s to President Obama’s has been consistent that a constitutional amendment is needed to grant the district statehood,” Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) said on the House floor.

One study (pdf) by the Department of Justice during that time period found that “an amendment to the Constitution would be required before the District of Columbia may be admitted to the Union as a state.”
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 30, 2020. (Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images)
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 30, 2020. (Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images)

Comer noted that the 23rd Amendment grants the District of Columbia electors as if it were a state. Additionally, Congress in 1970 authorized residents of the District of Columbia to elect a non-voting delegate to the House.

“Democrats want to rewrite the Constitution without going through the proper process of doing so,” he said, adding that he proposed a change to the bill that would first repeal the 23rd Amendment but that proposal was rejected.

The upper chamber is currently divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats, including two nominal independents who virtually always vote with Democrats. It’s widely considered unlikely that the Senate will pass H.R. 51, which would need at least 60 votes to advance.

President Joe Biden supports the legislation.

House Democrats passed a District of Columbia statehood bill in the last Congress; the measure wasn’t voted on in the then-Republican-controlled Senate.

Republicans have asserted that Democratic support for District of Columbia statehood is partially motivated by the fact it would virtually guarantee two additional Democratic senators and more Democrats in the House. The District of Columbia overwhelmingly votes Democratic in elections.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on April 22 accused detractors of H.R. 51 of being racist because the racial makeup of the district is 47 percent black.

“I shouldn’t have to remind my colleagues that it’s shockingly inappropriate to imply that the lives and occupations and rights of D.C. residents are somehow less than their fellow citizens in other ’more real,' and almost always more white, parts of the country,” he said.