‘Their right, as American citizens’: DC statehood bill to hit House floor

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, right, presents House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md., left, with a flag with 51 stars on it during a news conference on D.C. statehood on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, June 16, 2020, in Washington. Hoyer will hold a vote on D.C. statehood on June 26. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Statehood has long been a goal of D.C. leaders, and a bill to make the District the 51st state will arrive on the House floor next week.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said during a news conference Tuesday that he would bring D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s bill, HR 51, to the House for a vote June 26.

“It took me some time to conclude that the only way we were going to give the citizens of the District of Columbia their right, as American citizens, was to support statehood,” Hoyer said. “The speaker (Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.) and I have agreed on that for a long period of time — that District of Columbia citizens were not being treated fairly.”

Hoyer used the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic and the protests that have erupted in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody as examples of why D.C. needs to become a state.

“Over the past few weeks, we saw further examples of why the District of Columbia’s lack of representation in Congress is so damaging. First, Senate Republicans insisted on treating D.C. as a territory and not a state for the purpose of allocating emergency coronavirus response funding under the CARES Act,” Hoyer said.

“If D.C. were a state, it could not be shortchanged, as it was under the CARES Act, and its residents would be protected from the kind of civil rights violations we saw in Lafayette Square — all for the purpose of a photo op.”

Hoyer said the rights of D.C. residents were being ignored and that they were disenfranchised.

“We are the only free nation in the world whose capital does not have voting members of their parliament,” he said.

“Speaker (Pelosi) and I talked last week, we both agreed this was an appropriate time to bring a bill forward to show respect for the citizens of the District of Columbia, of whatever color, but also to show respect to a city who has a very large African-American population. And they matter, and they ought to be treated equally, with respect. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

Pelosi said D.C. residents have been denied the right to fully participate in U.S. democracy.

“Instead, they have been dealt the injustice of paying taxes, proudly serving in uniform in great numbers and contributing to the economic power of our nation while being denied the full enfranchisement, which is their right,” she said.

“And in recent days, we have seen a disturbing physical manifestation of that injustice, when federal agents and out-of-state National Guard troops were deployed against peaceful protesters in the District without residents’ approval.”

Pelosi went on to call Norton the “patron saint of D.C. statehood.”

Norton said that fight was personal, not simply because she authored the bill.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., speaks at a news conference on D.C. statehood on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, June 16, 2020, in Washington. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer will hold a vote on D.C. statehood June 26. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“It is personal because three generations of my family has yet to attain the rights other Americans take for granted,” Norton said. “The D.C. statehood bill will always have a personal acknowledgment for me, of Richard Holmes, my great grandfather, who escaped as a slave from a Virginia plantation. Richard Holmes made it as far as the District of Columbia, a walk to freedom, but not to equal citizenship.”

Norton added that D.C. residents pay the highest federal taxes per capita in the U.S. without equal representation.

“Coming in this, the third century of our nation, however, statehood means much more to us than dollars and cents. Statehood is priceless. Statehood assures that living in the nation’s capital is about pride, not prejudice,” Norton said.

Her bill has more than 220 co-sponsors, enough for it to pass a vote.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she wants her daughter to be able to aspire to be a senator representing the District. And she hammered the federal government for its response to the protests following Floyd’s death.

“It violated our principles of Americans being able to peacefully protest, and it violated our principles of local autonomy,” Bowser said.

“What Americans saw, people who never thought about Washington, D.C. — who was in charge, who was doing what — were calling and texting and saying what is happening is not right. There shouldn’t be troops from other states in Washington, D.C. There shouldn’t be federal forces advancing against Americans. And there very definitely shouldn’t be soldiers stationed around our city waiting for the go to attack Americans in a local policing matter.”

Calling herself “a chick mayor from Washington, D.C., having to fight an army,” Bowser added that statehood is the only way to ensure that the District has full representation in Congress, the votes and real autonomy.

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser wears a mask with the number 51 over a map of the District of Columbia during a news conference on D.C. statehood on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, June 16, 2020, in Washington. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md., will hold a vote on D.C. statehood on July 26. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson further criticized the White House.

“Mayor Bowser spoke about how offensive it was, the militarization, if you will, of the District, in the last several weeks by our president,” he said. “What wasn’t said, but which I want to remind everybody, it was only a couple weeks ago where our president said, on TV, on national TV, that Republicans would be crazy to give the District statehood because it would mean more Democrats in the Senate. And I mention that because this is about citizenship. This is not, should not, be about partisanship.”

Mendelson also called out those who oppose statehood for the District, saying they “grasp at any argument,” especially accusations of corruption.

“If corruption was a litmus test, there would be no state in the union,” Mendelson said. “And we’ve taken care of our mess.”

“The other arguments, that we’re too small or too urban, it actually reminds me of what I heard years ago. We suffer from the three too’s: too liberal, too Democrat, too black. Those are not reasons to deny citizenship.”

Mendelson said the District’s finances couldn’t be used against attaining statehood either.

“We have one of the healthiest, fiscally healthiest, governments of any state or city in the country,” he said.

Mendelson also tackled the argument that the Founding Fathers never intended for D.C. to be a state.

“So, I looked at the Federalist Papers. … I kept trying to find that discourse, that long discourse, about how the Founding Fathers intended that the citizens of the District of Columbia should not have a vote in the national legislature, and I can’t find that language. I can’t find that discussion,” Mendelson said.

“HR 51 corrects an injustice. HR 51 is about ensuring that the citizens of the District of Columbia, citizens who are citizens of the United States of America, have the same rights and same privileges enjoyed by every American in the other 50 states.”

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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