The U.S. House of Representatives, which holds a Democrat majority, voted on Thursday to pass HR. 51, a bill that would make the State of Washington DC the 51st US State and the newest state admitted to the union since Hawaii in 1959. The bill passed along the party-lines vote of 216-208.
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Activists in the District of Columbia have been pushing for statehood for quite a long time, but the idea did not find a lot of support and was thought a bit fringe, considering that the U.S. Constitution requires that the nation’s capital be located in a federal district, under the direct control of Congress and separate from any other state.
The bill passed, HR. 51, includes a clause circumventing the issue by proposing to shrink the federal district to a tiny slice of land encompassing the White House, the Supreme Court, and Capitol.
The Biden administration has backed up the proposal and released a statement on Wednesday that describes the current situation for the district’s 700,000-plus residents as a “denial of self-governance” and claiming that statehood would “make our Union stronger and fairer.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California), on the occasion of the bill`s approval, said it would “finally address this unjust, unequal and undemocratic situation.” Republicans, on the other hand, decried the bill as a “power grab,” in the words of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
There are clear political advantages for Democrats to back statehood for Washington DC. The new state would get two seats in the Senate, most likely going to Democrat representatives. The prospective state’s three electoral votes would also be a lock-in, given that the District has never in its history voted for a Republican presidential candidate.
But the bill still has to pass through the Senate. Democrats hold a single-seat majority there, that is, Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. However, to admit DC to the union would require a 60-vote majority unless the Democrats were to eliminate the upper chamber’s filibuster rules.
The bill also faces opposition from Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat who represents a staunchly Republican state and who has repeatedly spoken against ending the filibuster, someone who would most likely vote against it. Without him, Democrats would lose their Senate's slim margin of advantage.