DC the 51st state? Congress edges closer to first vote in decades

A legislative push to make D.C. the nation’s 51st state has moved a bit closer to a possible vote in the House — something that hasn’t happened in more than 25 years.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Thursday that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold a hearing on D.C. statehood on July 24.

Norton said she was grateful to the chairman of the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., for agreeing to hold “the hearing necessary to take H.R. 51 to the floor of the House of Representatives.”

The hearing has long been sought by Norton, a Democrat, and statehood supporters. The shift in power to Democrats in the House has made it more likely that a floor vote could eventually be taken.

In another development, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the veteran Democratic lawmaker from Maryland, announced he will support statehood. Hoyer is the last congressional Democrat from the Washington area to drop his opposition.

Hoyer explained his new position on the issue in an op-ed in The Washington Post.

Norton, Bowser and D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson spoke to statehood supporters at the D.C. War Memorial on the National Mall, citing the sacrifices of military veterans who have served the District, even though it has no vote in Congress.

“Our continued lack of voting representation in Congress is a disgrace to the nearly 30,000 veterans who call our city home, and it is a stain on our nation’s democracy,” Bowser said.

Norton said she now has more than 200 co-sponsors for her bill, which would require 218 votes to pass in the House. The legislation is overwhelmingly supported by Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and presidential candidates who served in Congress.

The Democratic leadership in the House backed statehood in its broader legislation covering voting rights and campaign reforms, H.R. 1, which passed the House earlier this year.

But the statehood legislation does not have the support of Republicans, who don’t like the idea of D.C. getting two senators — who would likely be Democrats, given that registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans in the District.

Even if the statehood measure is passed by the House, it would not likely get a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The last full House committee hearing on a D.C. statehood bill was held in 1993. It was later followed by a vote on the House floor and was defeated by a vote of 277-153.

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