World

Democrats to hold 1st vote on statehood for District of Columbia in 27 years

Democrats controlling the U.S. House of Representatives have slated a vote next week to make the District of Columbia the 51st state, an issue that they say has become far more important in the aftermath of protests for racial justice in both Washington and across the nation.

Senate not expected to take up measure despite likely, historic approval by House

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser speaks at a news conference on the statehood push for D.C. on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. A vote is scheduled for the House of Representative in just over a week. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

Democrats controlling the U.S. House of Representatives have scheduled a vote next week to make the District of Columbia the 51st state, an issue that they say has become far more important in the aftermath of protests for racial justice in both Washington and across the nation.

The June 26 vote, if successful, would pass a D.C. statehood bill for the first time in the House, but the legislation faces insurmountable opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate. It comes even as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced delays in the consideration of most other legislation. More than enough lawmakers are officially backing the bill for it to pass.

In 1993, a D.C. statehood bill was defeated in the Democrat-controlled Congress by an almost 2-1 margin.

A plurality of the District of Columbia is African American and the city is overwhelmingly Democratic.

President Donald Trump said this week that "D.C. will never be a state" because it would likely mean two more Democratic senators.

"No, thank you. That'll never happen," he told the New York Post.

But Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser pointed out Tuesday that D.C. taxpayers get no voting representatives in Congress despite contributing more in federal taxes on a per person basis than some states.

The population of over 705,000 in D.C. is slightly less than the much physically larger Alaska, and greater than Vermont and Wyoming.

"What kind of concept is it that if I move to our nation's capital I am less of a citizen of the United States of America," said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who represents the 5th District in nearby Maryland.

'Appropriate time'

The much-criticized administration move to use federal forces to clear Lafayette Square near the White House of peaceful protesters on June 1 to enable Trump to trumpet his law and order credentials in a photo-op two weeks ago prompted Democratic leaders to schedule the vote.

"We both agreed this was an appropriate time to bring a bill forward to show respect for the citizens of the District of Columbia," said Hoyer.

"There shouldn't be troops from other states in Washington, D.C.," said Bowser. "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."

In this Monday, June 1, 2020, file photo police clear the area around Lafayette Park and the White House in Washington, a move that angered activists and Democrats as it came ahead of a Donald Trump photo-op. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

In November 2016, with a turnout of 65 per cent, over 85 per cent of voters chose Yes on a referendum question asking the Council of the District of Columbia to petition Congress to admit it as the 51st state.

The 1993 vote in the House was defeated 277-153. Democrats still in Congress now who supported the measure back then included Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Bob Melendez, with Hoyer among those opposed at the time.

Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, who had been conscripted by the D.C. Council to lobby Congress ahead of that vote, expressed displeasure with Bill Clinton's administration after the result.

"This is a lost opportunity for Democrats and democracy," Jackson said. "If the White House had pushed this, we would have won."

Since 1993, the population of D.C. has grown by about 100,000 and the rate of violent crime has fallen dramatically.

During Republican control of Congress in recent years, conservatives have sought, mostly unsuccessfully, to restrict some of the city's liberal initiatives such as needle exchanges for drug users and abortions under its Medicaid program. Such efforts have faded as lawmakers developed greater faith in the city's elected officials, who have taken care of its fiscal problems.

With files from CBC News

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