The 51st State Debate

Robert Brooks Contributor
The 51st State Debate
Read Time: approx. 2:31

Cover: United States Capitol, First Street Southeast, Washington, DC, USA

The 51st State Debate: There are so many headlines that fly under the radar given the fact that we are dealing with a global pandemic and the largest collective protests since the 1960s—both of which are made exponentially more “threatening” by the media. While these two topics, how they relate to each other, and what the future looks like after they’ve passed deserve a majority of our attention, we’re going to switch gears slightly today and take a look at something else: Washington D.C. statehood. Next week the House is preparing to pass a bill granting the District full representation and voting rights in Congress. It matters because it would be the first time in U.S. history either chamber will approve legislation on the topic. Here’s what each side is saying:

On the Left: As Heather Caygle writes for POLITICO, “In announcing the historic vote Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer cheered the move as a victory for black residents in particular, as the nation undergoes a racial justice reckoning following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police on May 25.” Although gentrification has shifted demographics and more white residents are moving into the city, the District has long been predominantly black. Therefore, as Hoyer (D-Md.) sees it, “This is not just an issue of local governance and fairness, it is a major civil rights issue as well… This was an appropriate time to bring a bill forward to show respect for the citizens of the District of Columbia of whatever color, but also to show respect to a city that has a very large African American population.” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser adds that, “For the first time, statehood will put an end to our oldest slogan — ‘taxation without representation,’” pointing out that the city’s residents pay the highest federal taxes per capita and yet don’t have voting representatives in Congress.

On the Right: in an interview last year Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed staunch opposition to D.C. statehood comparing it to “full bore socialism.” For what it’s worth, McConnell also said there is no chance for Puerto Rico either: “[Democrats] plan to make the District of Columbia a state — that would give them two new Democratic senators — Puerto Rico a state, that would give them two more new Democratic senators, and … they plan to expand the Supreme Court.” President Donald Trump also dismissed the idea, saying Republicans would be “very, very stupid” to grant D.C. statehood because of the District’s Democratic demographics. In an interview with the New York Post last month, Trump said, “So we can have two more Democratic — Democrat senators and five more congressmen? No thank you. That’ll never happen.” It should be noted that if it were granted statehood, D.C.’s citizens would be represented by two senators and one representative in the House, not five as Trump stated.

Flag This: This isn’t the first time the topic of D.C. statehood has made its way to the halls of Congress. In 1993, statehood for The District failed in a floor vote, and since then there have been sporadic grumblings about making D.C. the 51st state. That said, until Democrats took back the house there had been no hearings on the issue in more than 25 years before last September. The bill, appropriately numbered HR51, calls for Washington, D.C., to be known as the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, after abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who lived there in the late 19th century. Of course, this should not be confused with Washington state in the Pacific Northwest. For what it’s worth, additional tid-bits surrounding the topic include the fact in 2016, Trump took just 4.09 percent of the vote against Democrat Hillary Clinton. The same year, 86 percent of city voters endorsed statehood. Washington, D.C., also currently has a larger population than both Wyoming and Vermont.