Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, joined by a group of more than three dozen fellow Democrats, has introduced a bill to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state, continuing the years-long campaign to grant statehood to the nation’s capital.
While the D.C. statehood movement enjoys widespread support from Democrats, who control the White House and both houses of Congress, Republican lawmakers generally oppose the effort, and the district is unlikely to become a state unless Democrats take the controversial step of eliminating the legislative filibuster in the Senate.
Carper introduced the companion bill to House legislation to make D.C. a state on Tuesday. The House passed a D.C. statehood bill last year by a vote of 232 to 180. The bill has 38 cosponsors in the Senate, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. President Biden said that he would support D.C. statehood during the presidential campaign.
“This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue; it’s an American issue because the lack of fair representation for D.C. residents is clearly inconsistent with the values on which this country was founded,” Carper said in a statement. “It is therefore incumbent upon all of us who enjoy the right and the privilege of full voting rights and representation to take up the cause of our fellow citizens in the District of Columbia.”
The legislation would provide voting representation for the city’s roughly 692,000 residents, a population larger than the states of Wyoming and Vermont. It would also cordon off the White House, Capitol and National Mall to remain under federal control as the seat of the U.S. government.
The argument over D.C. statehood gained more urgency after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when it took hours for National Guard mobilization to be approved to address the crisis. Unlike other National Guard units, the D.C. National Guard does not fall under local control, and can only be mobilized by the White House. Lawmakers have questioned why it took so long for the National Guard to spring into action on January 6. If Washington, D.C., had been given local control of its National Guard, then the Guard may have been deployed earlier in the day after the Capitol was assaulted. The National Guard is expected to remain mobilized in the city through the end of March.
But despite widespread Democratic support for D.C. statehood, most Republicans oppose admitting the district as a state. The district is heavily Democratic, with a diverse population that is 46% Black. Republicans believe that admitting Washington would automatically give Democrats two new senators, and further tilt the balance of the Senate towards the Democrats.
Democrats currently hold the narrowest possible majority in the Senate, with only 50 seats and Vice President Kamala Harris casting any tie-breaking vote. As most legislation currently requires 60 votes to end debate and receive a full vote on the Senate floor, a bill to make D.C. a state would likely be unable to reach that threshold.
Advocates for D.C. statehood argue that the Democratic majority needs to eliminate the filibuster, the procedure that allows senators to block legislation requiring 60 votes to end debate. If only a simple majority was required to end debate, this argument goes, then the Senate could approve D.C. statehood with only 51 votes.
Stasha Rhodes, the campaign director for 51 for 51, which supports ending the filibuster to pass D.C. statehood, said in a statement Wednesday that the Senate bill provides “a chance to win the most urgent civil rights fight of our lifetimes: giving a vote in Congress to over 700,000 people who have been denied one.”
“The people of D.C. have worked over 200 years for representation and we urge the Senate to act swiftly — D.C. deserves a vote during COVID relief negotiations, the impeachment trial, and every other fight to come. The only way to guarantee that democracy truly prevails is by passing this legislation with 51 votes in the Senate,” Rhodes said.
However, at least two Democrats — Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — have expressed opposition to ending the filibuster. There would need to be a simple majority vote to eliminate the filibuster, meaning that all 50 Democratic senators would have to be on board. Manchin in particular has been vocal in his opposition to eliminating the filibuster, a position that was affirmed by a spokesperson in a statement to CBS News.
“Senator Manchin’s position on the filibuster has not changed. He will not support eliminating the filibuster,” the spokesperson said. Manchin is not among the co-sponsors of the D.C. statehood bill introduced by Carper.
Unless all Democrats are willing to eliminate the filibuster, the bid for D.C. statehood is likely to be dead on arrival in the Senate, as it has been for the past several years.