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House Dems Push to Make Washington, D.C., the 51st State as Panel Approves Statehood Bill

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Proponents of making Washington, D.C., the 51st state scored a win after a House panel advanced legislation to make D.C. a state for the first time in almost 30 years.

In a party-line vote on Tuesday, the House Oversight Committee approved legislation that would grant statehood to the district and give its roughly 700,000 residents full representation in Congress. 

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s non-voting member of the House, called on Congress to approve the legislation and “live up to the nation’s promise and ideals.”

“Congress has two choices: It can continue to exercise undemocratic authority over 700,000 American citizens who live in the nation’s capital, treating them in the words of Frederick Douglass, as ‘aliens, not citizens, but subjects.’ Or it can live up to the nation’s promise and ideals.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) vowed to bring the legislation to the House floor, where it is expected to pass. Currently, the bill has 223 co-sponsors, which is more than the 218 votes needed to pass legislation in the House.

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The issue of granting statehood to D.C. has crept back into the national spotlight in recent years after residents in the district voted to approve a referendum petitioning Congress to grant the district statehood in 2016. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said before that vote that it was “morally wrong for American citizens who pay federal taxes, fight in our wars and live in our country to be denied the basic right to full congressional representation.”

He reiterated his support for statehood in a tweet last year: 

Last year, House Democrats passed a measure that called for D.C. to receive “full congressional voting rights and self-government, which only statehood can provide.”

Proponents of such a move note that D.C. has a larger population than Wyoming or Vermont, but residents only have a non-voting representative who can cast votes in committee but not on the House floor. They also do not have representation in the Senate. 

While the bill is expected to pass the House, it’s unlikely that the measure will get passed the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) previously called the idea of statehood “full bore socialism,” and vowed to block such legislation. 

Conservatives have argued that statehood should be achieved through a Constitutional amendment, not Congress. 

While Republicans appeared to be mostly against the idea of statehood, then-candidate Donald Trump said in 2015 that he would want “whatever’s best for” the district when asked about the matter.

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The newfound support for statehood marks a major shift from the last time such a measure was voted on. In 1993, when Congress last considered the issue, a bill granting D.C. statehood only was defeated in a 153-277 vote.

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