DC statehood advocates understand they face a new divided US Congress with a Democratic-led Senate and a narrow Republican majority in the House of Representatives in the new congressional session that will begin in January, but they are determined to continue their pressure to that the district will be the 51stSt Condition.
“Democrats have managed to hold the Senate and it looks like Republican Senate Chairman Mitch McConnell will have a lot less power over the next two years,” said Anise Jenkins, executive director of Stand Up! for Democracy in DC Coalition, a pro-state organization. “The Republicans won the House of Representatives, but it could have been a lot worse. We need to be clear that DC statehood is not about politics. This is a civil rights issue. The people who live in DC are entitled to full citizenship and full representation in Congress.”
DC Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) have introduced district statehood legislation in their respective chambers in recent years. Norton’s bill passed the House of Representatives in June 2020 and April 2021, while Carper’s accompanying legislation was heard in the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in June 2021. Carper’s bill has a record 45 co-sponsors. President Biden has indicated he will sign a DC statehood bill when it reaches his desk.
DC leaders look ahead to new session
When it became clear that Republicans had a good chance of retaking the House on Nov. 8, Norton said she had found a way to work with Republicans in the past.
“I spent most of my time in Congress in the minority,” she said at a district Democratic Party celebration. “We were able to get things done with the Republicans in charge.”
Norton, who has represented the district in the House of Representatives since 1991, said she will continue to block efforts by Republican representatives and senators to impose their will on the city through legislative interference. Congress has the power to legislate on the district because the city lacks statehood, Norton said.
“That’s why we need statehood so that Congress can leave the district alone and administer itself,” she said.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser agrees with Norton regarding congressional interference. However, she said she doesn’t mind the new GOP majority in the House of Representatives.
“It doesn’t matter what they think, it matters what the people of DC think,” Bowser said at a Nov. 9 news conference, WTOP reported. “We will do to them what we have always done. Tell them who we are. We take care of ourselves; we create our own laws; and we need them to stay out of our business.”
Bowser said she worked with three different presidents and controlled Congress from both Democrats and Republicans. The mayor said it is her hope that Congress can move forward on some priorities for the district before the new session of Congress begins.
“There’s still time for our friends in Congress to move forward with DC priorities now,” Bowser said. “We know judges are at stake. States are at stake. And of course the Senate could still vote on statehood. We will continue this push during this time; and should things change, we will approach working with Congress as we have always done.”
DC Shadow Rep. Oye Owolewa (D) said he will continue to work to build grassroots support for DC statehood among states when the new Congress takes power next year.
“I’m well aware that a DC statehood bill isn’t going to get through the House if Republicans are in control,” Owolewa said. “My team and I will be visiting states like Georgia and West Virginia to build support. We will also seek support from young people across the country. They have the right to vote and we want to make sure they know what statehood is about and why they should support it.”
Jenkins said it doesn’t matter which party controls the chambers in Congress, the statehood movement will continue advocacy until the district’s residents are full citizens of the United States
“That means full representation in Congress with one voting member of the House of Representatives and two senators because we pay federal taxes and have all the obligations of citizenship,” she said. “I think it’s a crime that we pay taxes and we can’t control our own destiny.”