Despite the uphill battle for District of Columbia statehood, Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., has reintroduced a statehood bill noting that the District’s unique political status is contrary to the American values celebrated on Independence Day.
“These Americans serve in our military, die defending our country, serve on our juries, and pay federal taxes,” Carper said of District residents in a statement. “Yet, despite their civic contributions, they are not afforded a vote in either chamber of Congress. This situation is simply not fair, and it isn’t consistent with the values we celebrate as a country on July 4th every year.”
Carper’s introduction of the bill on June 25 garnered praise from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser and statehood activists. All of the co-sponsors for the Senate and the companion House bill are Democrats, but supporters touted a record number of 17 original co-sponsors for the Senate bill, including all of the top Democratic leaders in the Senate.
But that number is down from 21 co-sponsors for the same bill in the 113th Congress, due to the retirements of three senior legislators. The 113th Congress saw the first hearing on statehood in two decades, but the bill faces dim prospects now that Republicans control both chambers.
That challenge was confronted the evening of June 25 at a panel discussion on statehood and voting rights at the National Archives, just a few hours after Carper introduced the Senate bill. Norton joined former Reps. James P. Moran, D-Va., and Jim Walsh, R-N.Y., and former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams at the event, where they all acknowledged the unlikelihood that D.C. will become the 51st state anytime soon.
“The District of Columbia is not going to get statehood nor the representation that it should, in my belief, get in the Senate and the House for quite some time,” Moran said. “The majority of the House and Senate being Republican, they have no interest in diluting their influence by increasing the influence of the Democratic caucus because … the two senators would surely be Democratic, as I guess would the member of Congress. So it’s not in their interest.”
But Walsh, who chaired the subcommittee in charge of the District’s funds when he was in the House, took a different view. He argued that the District is not likely to become a state because of the constitutional issue. He pointed to Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which established a District as the seat of government and gave Congress jurisdiction over the area “in all cases whatsoever.”
“If it’s enshrined in the Constitution of the United States that this be neutral ground, for all intents and purposes, people respect that,” Walsh said. “I think it’s important that we not just proscribe everything to politics. That principle and tradition does matter in this country. And I think that’s, to the larger extent, the reason that the District of Columbia is not a state.”
Norton pushed back against Walsh’s arguments, arguing that politics is at the center of the opposition to D.C. statehood. But she did acknowledge that the opposition presents a significant challenge.
“I think that everyone in this panel is correct that statehood is far off,” Norton said. “And yet we fight and struggle for it as if it might happen in the next Congress. That is how subordinated people in the United States have always done it.”
Norton said though statehood is the ultimate goal, the District would continue to push for other ways to cut ties with Congress, such as budget and legislative autonomy.
And she will continue to push back against Republican opposition to statehood. Norton noted, “We particularly made the [statehood] effort in the Senate and the House when both houses were taken over by the Republicans to say, ‘Take that.’”