The U.S. House of Representatives Oversight Committee held a hearing Monday on a bill that would make Washington, D.C., the country’s 51st state.
The bill — which passed in the House last year but died in the then-Republican-controlled Senate — represents what was once considered a fringe proposition among a handful of advocates to becoming part of the agenda for Democrats in Congress.
The District of Columbia was created on an undeveloped tract of land between the U.S. states of Maryland and Virginia in 1790 and became known as the Federal City for a brief period afterward. Residents initially were allowed to vote in either Maryland or Virginia.
But in 1800, the U.S. Congress moved into the new Capitol, and later passed the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801, which stripped D.C. residents of voting rights in all federal elections, including for U.S. president, and gave Congress oversight of the city.
Washington currently has more than 700,000 residents — a population greater than the states of Wyoming and Vermont — who do not have a vote in Congress. At Monday’s hearing, D.C. House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, author of the legislation, said it was designed to correct that situation.
As a delegate, Norton can vote in committee but not for the final bill passage.
Under her plan, the area that includes the Capitol, the White House and federal office buildings would become the “federal district,” with the remaining portions of the city becoming the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, named partially for former slave, abolitionist and voting rights advocate Frederick Douglass.
Republicans in Congress vehemently oppose the bill as a “power grab” by Democrats, as the staunchly Democratic city would mean more seats for their party in Congress.
Republicans argued their opposition last week on constitutional grounds, with conservative witnesses arguing that statehood could not be achieved through simple legislation and that a constitutional amendment would be required.
If it passes in the House, the measure will have difficulty passing the Senate, where Democrats have only a one-seat majority, and the bill would need eight Republican votes.