The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would make Washington, D.C., the 51st state, sending it to the U.S. Senate for consideration.
The measure, sponsored by D.C. House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and aptly titled House Bill 51, passed on a straight 216-208 vote.
A statehood bill passed the House in 2020 but died in the then-Republican controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Shumer has promised to see the measure at least gets consideration in a committee.
Republicans in Congress staunchly oppose the bill, calling it a “power grab” by Democrats, as a vast majority of the city’s population supports them, which could result in more congressional seats for the Democratic Party.
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. In 1961, residents were given the right to vote for president.
Washington currently has a population greater than the states of Wyoming and Vermont, but its more than 700,000 residents still do not have a vote in Congress. Norton, D.C.’s delegate, can vote in committee but not for the final passage of a bill.
Under her plan, the area that includes the Capitol, 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.
In a news release after the statehood measure passed, Norton called the bill historic, noting polls showing it is supported by 54% of Americans.
House Republicans opposed the measure on constitutional grounds, with conservative witnesses arguing that statehood could not be achieved through simple legislation and that a constitutional amendment would be required.
In the Senate, where Democrats have only a one-seat majority, the Senate filibuster rule requires the support of at least eight Republicans.
Not all Senate Democrats have indicated they would support the measure.