On Thursday, the House passed a bill along party lines, 216-208. It would make DC the 51st state of the country. The bill will likely stall in the senate, assuming the filibuster remains, which would demand 60 votes to pass.
The debate was not cordial and many Republicans were accused of not supporting “equal rights” or accused of the typical mantra of being “racist.”
As CNBC reported, “The House will finally address this unjust, unequal and undemocratic situation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told the chamber.
Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs responded that the legislation is really about “Democratic partisanship, Democrat power, Democrat policy, Democrat progressive issues.”
Members of each party accused the other of pursuing a “power grab,” which is ironic when Democrats are pursuing the effort that would grant them more national representation in Congress.
“It is outrageous that Republicans would play partisan politics just to block 712,000 Americans from having full equality in our democracy,” said House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, (D-NY).
The debate became further heated when Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) accused House Republicans of pushing “racist trash”.
“One Senate Republican said that D.C. wouldn’t be a quote, well-rounded working-class state,” said Jones. “I had no idea there were so many syllables in the word white.”
This comment promoted a chaotic moment in the Chamber, resulting in Jones agreeing to have his comment struck from the record. But the tone has been clear for years now: dissent amongst Republicans trying to prevent Democrats from abusing their power, altering the Constitution, and enacting wide-scale policies that have even resulted in states suing the federal government in recent months, marks them as “racists”.
The Biden Administration has come out in support of the effort to make DC the 51st state.
The Office of Management and Budget released a statement saying “This taxation without representation and denial of self-governance is an affront to the democratic values on which our Nation was founded. H.R. 51 rights this wrong by making Washington, D.C. a state and providing its residents with long overdue full representation in Congress, while maintaining a Federal District that will continue to serve as our Nation’s seat of government.”
While Democrats are packaging this bill as giving equal rights to D.C.’s residents, home to about 700,000 citizens, Republicans recognize the move as part of an effort to extend to Democrats more representative power. They also recognize the danger that such a move would pose.
With D.C. being overwhelmingly Democrat, statehood would give Democrats an additional Representative and two additional Senators. “Republicans make up only 6 percent of the District’s registered voters. No Republican has been elected mayor of D.C. since the start of home rule in 1975. There are no Republicans on the D.C. city council, and there have been none for over a decade”, National Review reported in an op-ed.
Because the 23rd Amendment implies that D.C. is not a state but electors will be appointed as “if it were”, it stands to reason that only an amendment to the Constitution could provide D.C. statehood, which would require 38 states to ratify.
However, Article IV, Section 3 states that “New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State… without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.”
Because Maryland is predominantly Democratic, this would likely pass. However, the 1791 ratification of cession, where Maryland gave the territory to the federal government, is argued by some that that deal was “final”, thereby taking away the need for her permission. This argument is put to rest if we consider the reason Maryland ceded that territory, to grant it to the federal government as a seat of national governance, which would be invalidated should it now be carved out as a state unto itself.
Another route that Democrats can take is through Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution which gives Congress “exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square)…” In other words, Congress can hypothetically redraw state lines within ten miles of the capital and White House. This would mean that residents of the new state would almost exclusively be residents of The White House.
This means that the President and, to the extent that Congress is involved, would retain a state unto themselves to lobby their vested interests. This politicization of the Nation’s capitol was carefully deliberated by the Founders, who understood it to be a dangerous precedent to set should the national government be placed even within a state, let alone considered its own.
The Federal Government would become its own political entity that would no longer be solely answerable to the states that it serves, but would now represent its own interests as well, as it would be a state unto itself. The Federal Government would thus become not dependent on the States for its existence, but independent of them as it voices its own agenda to be represented in the Chambers of Congress.
This dangerous privilege may not only be used when Democrats have power, although most residents of DC are Democratic, but applies to Republicans as well. The extension of power granted to the Federal Government knows no party lines.
But the Founders saw more than just this issue.
“The Founders foresaw the risk that creating a national capital would give too much power to the state of its location and its residents… Madison and the other Founders worried, as well, that the federal government’s independence of action in the national interest would be imperiled by subjecting its physical security to state and local authorities.”
In Federalist 43, James Madison expressed this warning of what “dependence of the members of the general government on the State comprehending the seat of the government” may entail. This dependence “might bring on the national councils an imputation of awe or influence, equally dishonorable to the government and dissatisfactory to the other members of the Confederacy.”
He continues that “the gradual accumulation of public improvements at the stationary residence of the government would be both too great a public pledge to be left in the hands of a single State, and would create so many obstacles to a removal of the government, as still further to abridge its necessary independence.”
What did this mean?
We unabashedly quote National Review for a lesson on history:
“In June 1783 a drunken mob of unpaid Continental Army soldiers surrounded the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. State and local authorities in Pennsylvania refused Alexander Hamilton’s desperate pleas to defend the Congress. Led by Hamilton and Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut, its members fled across the Delaware River into New Jersey and took up temporary housing in Princeton. Hamilton spent the time in New Jersey exile drafting a resolution calling for a constitutional convention. The Framers of the Constitution that was drafted at that convention (conducted in secrecy from the Philadelphia crowd) understood that a government with more permanent quarters could not so easily pack its bags. With the events of 1783 fresh in mind, Madison warned that, without federal control of the capital, “the public authority might be insulted and its proceedings interrupted with impunity.” A dependence of the members of the general government on the State comprehending the seat of the government, for protection in the exercise of their duty, might bring on the national councils an imputation of awe or influence” to the detriment of other states. In 1812, as president, Madison saw the capital burned by an invader when the Maryland militia could not protect it. His insight proved prophetic in 1861, when Maryland teetered on the verge of joining Virginia in seceding. Federal authorities needed to subdue angry mobs in Baltimore and sent a young Andrew Carnegie at the head of a military and technical crew to keep the District connected by rail and telegraph to the North. The next four years of war centered heavily on the physical defense of the capital, and of the Confederate capital in Richmond… the answer is not to make presidential or congressional power permanently dependent on a single local official.”
The author continues with the present day example in the wake of the riots in Lafayette square back in June. When Trump deployed the National Guard and federal authority to protect the square, Mayor Muriel Bowser lobbied for statehood to expand her powers, condemning his actions to protect D.C. as an abuse of power.
But the point is simple: ceding power of federal authority to the state and making the Federal Government a state unto itself, politicizes the latter’s role in representing the nation as a whole, as opposed to representing its constituents, itself, and neighboring states.
For in-depth legal analysis of the Constitutional requirements of DC Statehood, see Heritage.org.