The Democratic-led House is expected to vote this week on the “Washington, D.C. Admission Act” (H.R. 51), which would welcome D.C. as the nation’s 51st state. The plan entails carving out a new federal district — limited to the National Mall, to the west of Capitol Hill — where there are no residents, while making the rest of D.C. a state.
Republican opponents are apparently still working on their talking points. Here, for example, was Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) making her case this morning:
“D.C. wouldn’t even qualify as a singular congressional district and here they are, they want the power and the authority of being an entire state in the United States — and they want that power.”
At face value, this argument may appear vaguely persuasive. The average population of a U.S. congressional district — not a whole state, just a district — is over 700,000 residents, and D.C.’s population is a little shy of that total.
The trouble is, two states — Wyoming and Vermont — have fewer people than D.C. By Mace’s reasoning, those states “wouldn’t even qualify as a singular congressional district,” either. The fact that the South Carolina congresswoman was standing a few feet from House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney — Wyoming’s sole representative in the House — made the circumstances a bit more ironic.
But Mace is hardly alone. As we discussed last month, Republicans have had plenty of time to come up with their best arguments on the issue. They can’t realistically come right out and tell the truth — they oppose D.C. statehood because it would likely mean two additional Democratic senators — and so we’re routinely treated to a series of strange talking points.
At a recent House hearing, for example, Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) noted that D.C. doesn’t have any mining, which is true, but irrelevant. Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) insisted that D.C. would be the only state “without a car dealership.” In addition to being irrelevant, this one isn’t even true.
The Heritage Foundation’s Zack Smith, a witness Republicans invited to testify at the hearing, argued that congressional representation for these 700,000 American taxpayers is unnecessary because local residents “already impact the national debate” — because members of Congress see their yard signs while driving to Capitol Hill. He did not appear to be kidding.
After the hearing, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) thought it’d be a good idea to argue via Twitter, “The Founding Fathers never intended for Washington D.C. to be a state.” That’s very likely true, but the Founding Fathers, among other things, also didn’t intend for there to be two Dakotas — 19th-century Republicans created two states out of the Dakota Territory in order to have extra U.S. senators — so Rounds wasn’t a great messenger for this message.
This is about far more than an academic exercise. Not only are these hundreds of thousands of Americans being denied representation in Congress, but the issue took on considerably greater importance during the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 — because the federal government controls the D.C. National Guard. It meant local elected officials, unlike every governor in the country, were powerless as radicalized rioters launched an attack.
It’s partly why the White House issued an official Statement of Administration Policy this morning, expressing President Joe Biden’s “strong support” for the pending legislation. While Barack Obama also supported D.C. statehood during his time in office, this was reportedly the first time any White House has given its official, written support for the D.C. statehood effort.
The bill is expected to pass the House this week, before heading to the divided Senate. Democratic leaders have vowed to hold a vote, but overcoming a Republican filibuster will likely be impossible.
Postscript: For the record, it wasn’t that long ago when Republicans felt differently about this issue. As the Washington Post recently noted, “Both conservative icon Barry Goldwater and former president Richard M. Nixon favored D.C. statehood. The 1972 and 1976 Republican Party platforms endorsed voting rights for Washington in the House and Senate. And both chambers of Congress in 1978 passed a proposed constitutional amendment (i.e. with two-thirds majorities) to that effect, with half of GOP senators voting for it. The amendment was not ratified by enough states.”