Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that “D.C. statehood is an idea whose time has come,” and several Democrats lined up on the floor of the upper chamber to argue for making the District the nation’s 51st state.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both Democrats from Maryland, were among those who spoke on behalf of legislation to make D.C. a state.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said he believes “the tide is starting to turn” on statehood legislation, as he spoke in front of a poster board that read “End Taxation Without Representation.”
Carper, who is leading the effort to progress the bill in the Senate, said that the legislation has “a record” 45 Democratic co-sponsors.
Van Hollen called some of the arguments against statehood that have been made by Republicans “absurd.”
“We’ve heard from members of Congress that the people of the District of Columbia don’t deserve statehood because it doesn’t have a landfill,” he said. “We’ve heard that the District of Columbia doesn’t deserve statehood because it needs more car dealerships.”
Statehood supporters are trying to keep a political spotlight on the issue, which has the support of President Joe Biden, but is strongly opposed by Republicans.
Legislation that would make D.C. a state, sponsored by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, was passed by the House on a party-line vote last month.
Norton this week thanked a group of constitutional law professors, who have sent a letter in support of the constitutionality of her bill, to House and Senate leaders.
“The letter in clear language very effectively conveys that there is no constitutional barrier to admitting D.C. as a state, especially given that the bill retains a reduced federal district that will serve as the nation’s capital,” Norton said in a statement.
Those who signed the letter include Caroline Frederickson with the Georgetown University Law Center, Erwin Chemerinsky with the University of California, Laurence Tribe with Harvard Law School and the Berkeley School of Law.
The legal scholars argue that Congress can approve admission of a new state.
Opponents, including Republican lawmakers, argue that the 23rd Amendment prevents Congress from making D.C. a state and that a constitutional amendment is required. That would need to be approved by two-thirds of the states.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who at times votes with Republicans, has said he opposes the statehood bill because he believes a constitutional amendment would be necessary. While most Senate Democrats support making D.C. a state, all 50 Democrats need to be on board for the legislation to have any chance of moving forward in the Senate.
Even if Democrats were to get unanimous support within their caucus, they would still need 10 Republicans to go along with a vote to overcome a filibuster. No Senate Republicans support the legislation, which would award D.C. a voting member of the House, as well as two U.S. Senators.
Since D.C. generally votes overwhelmingly for Democrats, Republicans are concerned making the District a state would effectively give the opposing party two more votes in the Senate.
Schumer and others pointed out that D.C. has a larger population than two states, Vermont and Wyoming.
Democrats are trying to schedule a Senate committee hearing on the issue of D.C. statehood later this year. Getting a Senate floor vote on the legislation still faces long political odds.