The U.S. House of Representatives voted to grant statehood to Washington, D.C., marking the first time that either chamber of Congress has voted to make the District a state.
The bill, H.R. 51, was introduced by nonvoting Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), and passed 232 to 180 June 26. The measure was voted for by every Democratic member of the House with the exception of Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and received no votes from Republicans. Holmes Norton has introduced statehood legislation in every session since joining Congress in 1991, but H.R. 51 is the first piece to be voted on since 1993.
Despite a lack of Republican support and slim odds of the legislation passing the Senate, the vote is historic and encouraging, according to Holmes Norton.
“We are undaunted by the lack of support in the Republican-controlled Senate, and the White House. We are certainly not discouraged by President Trump’s outspoken opposition to home rule and his attempts to control the District of Columbia and the city’s police force in acts of brazen presidential irresponsibility,” Holmes Norton said in a June 26 press release. “Far from underestimating the work to come, however, our strategy is in place for full speed ahead. That strategy will soon become apparent, but today we celebrate.”
D.C., which has a larger population than Vermont and Wyoming, has no voting representation on the federal level of government. Though D.C. residents pay federal taxes, they cannot elect members of Congress.
Advocates for D.C. statehood claim this arrangement contradicts principles of taxation without representation and deprives D.C. residents of their constitutional rights.
Holmes Norton’s efforts and the successful vote are a positive step forward for the District, according to Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95), who wrote a letter to congressional leadership endorsing H.R. 51 in September 2019.
“We are thankful for the efforts and advocacy that helped to make this historic vote possible and will continue to support and advocate alongside Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and our city leaders to achieve full representation for Washington, D.C.,” DeGioia wrote in a statement to The Hoya. “I wish to express my deepest appreciation to Congresswoman Norton for her vision, leadership, and persistence in advancing this important issue of representation for our city and for our nation.”
Should the bill become law, the District would receive two seats in the Senate and one voting seat in the House of Representatives. The bill would also rename the “District of Columbia” — a name inspired by Christopher Columbus — to “Douglass Commonwealth,” in honor of writer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
The mayor of D.C. would become the governor, and the Council of the District of Columbia would transform into the state legislature. The city would still designate federal government spaces as capital territory.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) marked the passage of H.R. 51 by invoking the words of Douglass and calling for the total enfranchisement of the District’s population, a large portion of which is Black and Indigenous people of color.
“More than 160 years ago, Washingtonian Frederick Douglass told us: Power concedes nothing without a demand. As Washingtonians and as taxpaying American citizens, we are demanding what is owed to us — the rights guaranteed to us by the U.S. Constitution,” Bowser said in a June 26 press release. “It is true that DC is more brown and more liberal than many other states. But the issue of taxation without representation was settled more than 200 years ago through the Declaration of Independence, and disenfranchising more than 700,000 taxpaying Americans is wrong no matter our politics or demographics.”
Republican lawmakers and President Donald Trump have expressed intense opposition to the bill, fearing that granting D.C. statehood would grant Democrats a significant political boost in Congress. The District has voted for a Democratic presidential nominee every election cycle since 1964.
Regardless of opposition, the success of H.R. 51 proves statehood is on the horizon, and people who supported the effort will be looked upon kindly by history, according to Bowser.
“I was born without representation, but I swear — I will not die without representation,” Bowser said. “Together, we will achieve DC statehood, and when we do, we will look back on this day and remember all who stood with us on the right side of history.”