WASHINGTON (AP) – A decades-long movement to reshape America’s political map took a new step on Thursday when the House of Representatives approved a bill to make the nation’s capital the 51st state.
The approval came by a 216-208 vote along strict party lines. Republicans oppose the idea given that the new state would be majority Democratic – and the proposal faces a much more difficult road in the Senate, where even full Democratic support is not guaranteed.
The legislation proposes to create a 51st state with one representative and two senators, while a tiny strip of land comprising the White House, the United States Capitol and the National Mall would remain as a federal district. Instead of the District of Columbia, the new state would be known as Washington, Douglass Commonwealth – named after the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who lived in Washington from 1877 until his death in 1895.
An identical state-building bill passed the House in 2020, but died in the then Republican-controlled Senate. Now, with the 2020 election leaving Democrats in control of both houses of Congress and the White House, Republican senators can resort to a filibuster to thwart the state bill.
The Senate is split 50/50 with Vice President Kamala Harris as a tiebreaker. But it takes 60 senators to break an attempted filibuster. Senate Democrats could vote to change the filibuster rules and drag the state issue through a loophole – but that would require full unity and some moderate Democrats have voiced opposition to that strategy.
Perpetual swing voting and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia had previously publicly stated that he would not vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster. Manchin is also one of the few Democratic senators who has not openly supported the Washington state initiative.
For now, however, Democrats and state supporters are celebrating their victory in the House.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser linked the state issue to the United States’ continued consideration of police brutality and long-standing issues of racial injustice.
“This vote comes at a critical time when Americans across the country are eager to keep the promise of freedom and justice for all,” Bowser said in a statement. “For centuries, a progressive approach to equality in America has delayed this promise for too many people. Now is the time for bold action. “
Kentucky Republican Representative James Comer called the measure “downright unconstitutional.”
“It won’t stand up to judicial scrutiny, but it will cause massive confusion for years to come as it goes to court,” Comer said in a statement. “Democrats are pushing Washington State to pack the United States Senate with two progressive senators so they can end filibustering, pack the Supreme Court, enact the Green New Deal, and create the socialist utopia that the United States dreams of. brigade.
The bill received strong support from the White House, which called Washington’s current status “an affront to the democratic values on which our nation was founded.”
During Thursday’s debate, a succession of Republican officials decried it as a cynical and unconstitutional takeover. The founding fathers of the country, “never intended DC to be a state and then specifically formulated the constitution to say so,” Georgia Republican Jody Hice said.
But Virginia Democratic Representative Gerald Connolly pointed out that Kentucky was once part of Virginia and was divided into a state by Congress.
Connolly argued that the Federal District was a theoretical concept when it was first conceived, not a community with a population larger than two US states.
“When the constitution was drafted, this place did not exist,” he said. “When people say it’s not about race and partisanship, you can be sure it’s about race and partisanship.
During a hearing in March by the House Oversight Committee, GOP officials asserted that DC was unfit to become a state and offered a variety of alternatives that included waiving Washingtonians federal taxes and “handing over” most of DC to Maryland.
Opponents also argue that Congress does not have the power to change DC’s status, although all states other than the original 13 were admitted to the union via a congressional vote.
Zack Smith, a lawyer at the Heritage Institute, a conservative think tank, said passing the measure would lead to a wave of lawsuits.
“You’re watching a lot of litigation,” Smith told The Associated Press. “Any legislative act of this new state would be called into question. … Things would change for years.
DC has long been irritated by its dealings with Congress, which has the power to veto or change local laws. It has a larger population than either Wyoming or Vermont, and its approximately 712,000 residents pay federal taxes, vote for president, and serve in the military, but have no electoral representation in Congress.
The limits of DC reality were highlighted last summer during a series of protests against the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and against general police brutality. After a night of widespread vandalism, President Donald Trump usurped the authority of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and called a massive multi-agency federal force downtown. The police have eliminated peaceful demonstrators from a public street so Trump could pose for a photo in front of a church.
Ravi Perry, head of the political science department at Howard University, said the events of last summer were a crucial turning point for the perception of the Washington state push, intertwining the problem with the upward movement. for the racial justice of the country. As recently as 2018, nationwide polls showed the majority of Americans were lukewarm at best on the subject, but those poll numbers have changed dramatically over the past two years, he said. declared.
“People started to see Washington state as the racial justice issue,” said Perry, who is also a board member of the pro-state DC Vote group. “There has been a drastic change, and a lot of it has been driven by Trumpism.”