The bid for statehood by Washington, D.C. finally got a hearing in Congress on Monday, but Mayor Muriel Bowser’s disagreements with Republicans on the panel showed that the problem is far from resolved.
Republicans accused Democrats of a cynical power play, claiming that statehood was never the vision of the country’s Founding Fathers and that Congress lacks the authority to grant D.C. statehood.
Washingtonians’ lack of representation in Congress, according to Bowser, is “one of the last conspicuous civil rights problems of our time.”
Supporters of D.C.’s statehood bid claim the time has come to realize the long-simmering and racially charged proposal. It will grant D.C. two senators and a House member with full voting rights. Historically, the District has voted Conservative.
“We dare to hope that D.C. statehood is on the horizon,” said Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s long-serving nonvoting delegate who drafted the bill and claims it has bipartisan support in the House.
Bowser spent most of the House oversight committee’s four-hour hearing on Monday in a series of often heated discussions with Republican committee members.
Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., interrupted Bowser’s responses several times, once saying, “You absolutely answered my question, so please don’t proceed.”
Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., also interrupted Bowser’s remarks before telling the committee chair that he would change the subject because “she won’t answer this.”
“SHE is happy to answer your question,” Bowser answered vehemently.
Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., attempted to defy the District’s slogan, “taxation without representation,” which is displayed on local license plates. He asked Bowser if residents of the District would be content with the current situation if they didn’t have to pay federal taxes, as residents of Puerto Rico and American Samoa do.
She said, “The District is proud to pay its fair share of taxes.” “We’re not attempting to avoid our obligations.”
The tense hearing on Monday served as a foretaste of a controversy that could soon dominate national political discourse. The racially charged subtext was unmistakable: The hearing was live-tweeted by Washington’s Black Lives Matter affiliate. The local branch of the Black Lives Matter movement has long been a supporter of Bowser, but found itself associated with her for the day, accusing Hice of “grasping at racial straws” at one point.
A committee member, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Massachusetts, pointed out that although D.C. is no longer majority black, at 46 percent, it will become the blackest state in the world. She said, “D.C. statehood is a racial-justice problem.”
The testimony of Zack Smith, a legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, was widely cited by Republicans on the panel. Smith acknowledged that Congress has the power to admit new states, but he believes that this authority is meaningless in the case of Washington because the federal district was defined and established in Article 1 of the Constitution. As a result, Smith argued, the conventional legislative path to statehood is unconstitutional, and only a constitutional amendment can achieve statehood.
“No other state owes its life to a constitutional clause. He claims that no other state is in the same situation as the District of Columbia.
Smith also asserted that the Founding Fathers never planned for D.C. to be a state and instead intended for it to be a federal district subject to legislative control “to protect the federal government’s protection and security.”
Several Republican legislators mentioned retrocession, a measure that would reintegrate the District of Columbia into Maryland. Both Bowser and Norton stated that neither Washington nor Maryland residents were interested in such a proposal.
Washington has long grumbled about its association with Congress, which has the power to veto or amend any local legislation. Washington has a population greater than Wyoming or Vermont, and its estimated 712,000 people pay federal taxes, vote for president, and serve in the military, but they do not have a vote in Congress.
Bowser told the committee, “All we ask of you is to fix an anomaly in our culture.”
Last summer, the shortcomings of Washington’s truth were brought to light during a series of enraged demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and against police violence in general. President Donald Trump usurped Bowser’s authority and sent a huge multi-agency federal force to downtown Washington after a night of widespread vandalism. To allow Trump to pose for a picture outside a church, law enforcement officers cleared peaceful demonstrators from a public street.
Bowser didn’t mention Trump by name on Monday, but said that the previous year demonstrated that any president could “impose his will on the people of the District of Columbia, squashing the voices of their elected officials and squashing their rules.” This is undemocratic. It’s un-American, and it needs to be resolved immediately.”
Bowser did not have the power of a governor to call in the National Guard on Jan. 6, when a crowd of Trump supporters violently surrounded U.S. Capitol Police and stormed the Capitol building. Instead, the request was forwarded to the Pentagon’s upper floors, causing a significant pause in the deployment of the Guard as hundreds of D.C. police officers raced into the building as reinforcements.
At the time, Bowser immediately noticed the irony of Washington citizens risking their lives to protect a Congress in which they had no voice.
Norton says she has enough support in the House to comfortably pass the bill, and she believes it would pass the Senate if no Democrats break ranks and the vote is solely partisan. And all signs pointed to a solely political clash on the horizon on Monday.
“This bill is for two new Senate seats,” said James Comer, the ranking Republican on the committee. “There isn’t a single Republican in Congress who supports this bill, in the House or the Senate.”