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Congressional Democrats push for DC statehood at key House committee hearing

Sipa USA via AP

Democrats expressed urgency as Congress prepares to once again consider giving statehood to Washington DC, vowing that legislation on the issue would be considered by both chambers.

On Monday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing on HR 51, the Washington, DC Admission Act, which would grant the nation’s capital statehood, and featured testimony from DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and other local officials.

In her testimony, Bowser called the cases made against HR 51, including assertions that it is unconstitutional or that Washington, DC, is too small or can’t handle governing itself, “bad faith arguments,” citing that the District is more populous than two states, pays federal taxes and has had a balanced budget for years and carries out many functions that states do, including managing coronavirus testing, contact tracing and vaccination efforts amid the pandemic.

“Arguing that Washingtonians must remain disenfranchised to protect the interests of the federal government is dangerous, outdated and downright insulting,” she said.

While part of the progressive wish list, the chances of the DC statehood legislation passing in the House and then getting 60 votes in the Senate is nil. But it shows the push by progressives to further their agenda while Democrats control all the levers of government.

Bowser pointed to racism as a reason that the push for DC statehood was abandoned in the past when the District became majority African-American. “The drive to the correct the wrong was replaced by racist efforts to subvert a growing and thriving Black city,” she told lawmakers.

Ahead of the hearing, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a call with reporters that House Democrats would bring HR 51 to the floor.

“We passed that legislation in 2020, but the Republican-controlled Senate, not surprisingly, refused to bring it up,” he said.

The Maryland Democrat said he’s “hopeful” that Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, who introduced the legislation in the Senate, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will ensure it makes it to the Senate floor and passes, so it can be sent to President Joe Biden’s desk.

Throughout the hearing, Democrats made clear that they see granting statehood to DC as a civil rights and representation issue, while Republicans claimed making the nation’s capital the 51st state through legislation, rather than through a constitutional amendment, defies the nation’s laws and pushed back on other logistical and political issues.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC’s nonvoting House member and a longtime advocate for statehood, told reporters she believes it’s important that Congress is considering HR 51 again because the last public hearing on the legislation “boosted support for DC statehood” and raised the popularity of the issue among voters.

Norton told lawmakers that Congress faces a choice between continuing to “exercise undemocratic, autocratic authority over the American citizens who reside in our nation’s capital,” or “it can live up to this nation’s promise and ideals, end taxation without representation and pass HR 51.”

Rep. James Comer, the committee’s top ranking Republican, called Norton’s legislation “Plan B of the Democrat political power grab” after “Plan A,” eliminating the legislative filibuster in order to pass legislation in the Senate with a simple majority, seems unlikely to due to opposition from moderate Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin.

“DC statehood is a key part of the radical leftist agenda to reshape America, along with the Green New Deal, defunding the police and packing the US Supreme Court,” he said.

Though the legislation was subject to public hearings the last time the House considered it, House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, defended the choice to follow regular order, echoing Norton’s message on the importance of educating the American public, as well as convincing “undecided Democratic senators” that “statehood is the right thing to do and is constitutional.”

Responding later in the hearing to comments from Republicans such as Comer’s, Maloney said, “The real power grab is denying 712,000 taxpaying American citizens the right to vote.”

Maloney said she also hoped to use the panel’s hearing to build a legislative record because she thinks “there will be an inevitable court challenge.”

Though it will be an uphill challenge to get the 60 votes necessary to pass the legislation in the narrowly-divided Senate, Carper expressed confidence in his ability to get his colleagues on board, telling reporters, “I’m tenacious. I don’t give up, and I’m pretty good at working across the aisle. So is Joe Lieberman (who previously introduced DC statehood legislation in the Senate), and bring it on.”

While defending the push for DC statehood, the Democratic lawmakers repeatedly referenced the concept of “taxation without representation,” alluding to the Revolutionary War and citing that DC pays more federal taxes per capita than any state in the country.

Carper also called the matter an issue of “public safety,” noting the DC mayor’s inability to unilaterally deploy the DC National Guard.

“The mayor of DC cannot deploy the DC National Guard case in of emergencies like the insurrection we saw just two months ago our nation’s Capitol that resulted in the death of police officers and dozens of injuries,” he said, invoking the events of January 6.

Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the lead House manager in former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, told Bowser that DC residents have a “very strong and legitimate grievance about being disenfranchised and not represented in Congress, and yet never attacked the US Congress, broke our windows, stormed our chambers, or caused the deaths or injuries of more than 100 of our police officers,” continuing, “I want to thank you for following the nonviolent and constitutional path to political equality in America which is set forth in the Constitution itself.”

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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