On January 6th the Capitol building in Washington DC was attacked and occupied by domestic terrorists, incited by a President who couldn’t stomach losing. The city’s almost 700,000 residents had to witness right-wing extremists lay siege to their city, causing it to be fenced off and patrolled by the national guard for two weeks.
While Congress convened to count the electoral college votes, and both chambers voted on the Republican challenge to the election results, some votes were missing. There were no votes representing the residents whose city was under attack. DC’s national guard is also controlled by the President as it does not have a Governor, which resulted in a delay when Trump did not call the national guard and nearby states were called upon prior to Mike Pence deploying the national guard.
Washington, DC, while having a larger population than Wyoming and Vermont, has no voting representation in Congress. For a nation that claims its foundations are rooted in democracy, it is wrong that 700,000 of its residents are disenfranchised simply because they live in the capital city. These residents live by the same laws as the rest of the country and pay taxes to both the DC city government and federal government; yet, they are not afforded congressional representation to input on where their taxes go.
DC should be given statehood drawing state boundaries that exclude the National Mall, Smithsonian museums, and the White House. This would result in these residents fully gaining congressional representation through two senators and a house representative with full voting power.
While this piece will focus on the case for statehood for DC, it should be noted that Puerto Rico has had calls for statehood made. However, Puerto Rico has many more complexities to resolve prior to calling for outright statehood. It is a territory of the United States but does not have voting representation in congress. Its residents have citizenship rights but cannot vote. The history of Puerto Rico means that the issue is more fraught than that of DC. The issue is that Puerto Rico has a significant number of people who support outright independence and to become a sovereign nation and others who believe they are better served being a US state.
How DC Statehood Could Be Achieved
Currently, legislation typically requires sixty votes in the Senate to pass over onto the President’s desk to sign into law. There are ways to pass legislation via a simple majority call budget reconciliation but that’s for another post! Additionally, this sixty-vote requirement also used to apply to the nomination of judicial nominees. However, that requirement was bypassed by Republican majorities in the past four years. When moving forward Neil Gorsuch’s nomination, the Republican majority enacted the “nuclear option”, meaning that only a simple majority was needed to confirm Supreme Court nominees. This resulted in Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Coney Barrett being confirmed by simple majorities and not the historical threshold of sixty.
Now that Democrats hold the majority in the Senate, they should similarly use their powers and institute their own versions of the “nuclear option” in order to expand democracy and ensure the United States continues its efforts to be a more perfect union. Democrats must vote to end the inevitable filibuster and put DC statehood to a simple majority vote where VP Harris can break a tie.
Opposition to Statehood
This idea should transcend partisanship and the belief that all U.S. residents deserve full congressional representation should be reason alone to make Washington DC the 51st state. And yet, many GOP politicians are against enfranchising these residents simply because the demographic makeup and voting patterns of DC means it would likely result in 2 more Democratic senators and a single representative in the house.
When running for the 2016 Republican nomination for President, Ohio Governor John Kasich made this viewpoint abundantly clear. When asked in an interview why people in DC pay taxes, go to war and yet have no vote in congress he said “Well look, I am not — I don’t — I am not, because you know what, what it really gets down to if you want to be honest is because they know that’s just more votes in the Democratic Party.” Statehood for DC should be pursued in line with the country’s founding principles not because of the fear of partisan gains.
When discussing DC statehood, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas compared the population of DC to that of Wyoming and said Wyoming was a “well rounded working-class state” due to its mining, logging, and construction industries. This notion implies that Wyoming’s residents are more deserving of representation due to the jobs they have rather than the fact they live in the US like every other American. No other state’s ability to have representation is marked against what jobs the state citizens hold.
The underlying thought in the GOP is and has been that they can choose their voters not the voters choosing them.
One proposal by opponents to DC statehood suggests that DC should retrocede into Maryland. This suggestion is not popular among Maryland or DC natives as it would dilute the voting power of Maryland’s citizens. DC has a greater population to those of Baltimore, which is the biggest Maryland city with over 600,000 people. The next, Columbia has just over 100,000 people. DC would dwarf every city in Maryland’s voting power and take away from those of Maryland.
The history of both regions is also different and unique. Maryland has been its own state since 1788 and DC, the capital since 1790 so to suggest merging the two would go against the wants and needs of the citizens. DC’s residents deserve their own representation, as do Maryland’s. They deserve representation that fights for them and their needs. If DC’s first voting representation was Maryland’s, they would not see any noticeable change as Maryland’s congressional delegation serves Maryland.
The true aim of this suggestion is to avoid any potential congressional representation that they believe would help the Democrats. Merging the populations of DC (700,000) and Maryland (6 million) is akin to merging the Dakotas whose total population would be 1.5 million. This suggestion solely dilutes the voting rights and inhibits the representation of those residents.
It should not be up to any one person or party who is deemed worthy of political representation. If the US wants to fulfil its own ideals of democracy, congress must move to pass DC statehood and enfranchise 700,000 of its residents. This is more important now than ever. The more people empowered by access to the ballot and congressional representation, the safer and more inclusive democracy is in the world’s oldest living democracy.
Articles & Information
NPR Throughline — Borinquén (Episode dated 16/07/2020)
51st: With Democrats in Charge, Is DC Destined for Statehood?