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Former Washington Journalist
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While President Biden and its other allies won’t give up on granting Washington DC statehood, at least one political observer believes that the political momentum is there to bring in both DC and Puerto Rico as the newest US states by the end of the decade.
The House of Representatives this week approved legislation which would grant Washington DC the statehood its 700,000 residents have been fighting for, for decades.
Its backers say that statehood is necessary to correct the historical injustice where DC’s residents pay federal income taxes like all other Americans, but have no voting representation in Congress. That amounts to “taxation without representation,” or the proximate cause of the American Revolution.
Republicans stubbornly object. While trying to cite constitutional grounds, conservatives have increasingly shown that the concern is indeed much more nakedly partisan. DC’s voters tilt overwhelmingly Democratic; Biden received more than 90 percent of the vote in DC in last year’s presidential election. Republicans worry that partisan tilt would only introduce additional Democrats to Congress — at a time when Republicans are already fighting to regain the majority.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), however, called out Republicans for their opposition in remarks on the Senate floor.
“The far right, the hard right — which seems to be so dominant in the party on the other side — is so afraid of losing political power, and so unwilling to appeal to anyone that doesn’t already agree with them that their strategy has become to restrict voting rights and deny equal representation in Congress to thousands, to hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Schumer said. “So D.C. statehood, unfortunately, is part of a continuing thread of not allowing people their right to vote, to representation, that seems to be growing in the Republican Party, particularly here in the Senate and in legislatures throughout the country, unfortunately.
“Self-government, voting rights, these are not Democratic rights, these are not Republican rights, they are American rights,” Schumer added. “They are issues of fairness and democracy. It’s not about right and left, it’s about right and wrong. D.C. statehood is an idea whose time has come.”
Statehood backers have overcome constitutional barriers by the way the statehood bill was written. While the Constitution does demand a “federal district” for the nation’s capital, it’s up to Congress to define just what that district is.
The statehood legislation would redefine the district to become only the land around the Capitol Building and the White House — leaving the rest of the city to form the new 51st state, the Douglass Commonwealth, named for the great Black American abolitionist, statesman and orator.
While the statehood bill has cleared the House — and enjoys support from a president eager to sign the legislation into law — it has a murkier future in the Senate, where Democrats have the slimmest of all possible majorities, and it’s not clear that even some of the more conservative Democrats support DC statehood.
However, Biden’s ready to use his influence to help the bill, according to his press secretary.
“President Biden strongly supports D.C. statehood and our administration will work with Congress to get it passed. We put out a statement of administration policy in strong support of H.R. 51 just this morning,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, referring to the statehood bill’s official designation. “His view is that the denial of voting representation in Congress and local self-government to the 712,000 residents for our nation’s capital violates two of our nation’s founding principles: no taxation without representation and consent of the governed. And he will continue to advocate for this passing.”
Statehood also gained a somewhat surprising new ally this week, in the form of former conservative independent senator from Connecticut and one-time Democratic running mate, Joe Lieberman.
Lieberman, who by the end of his career in office, was known for having left the Democratic Party and siding much more with Republicans on many issues — going as far as speaking at the Republican National Convention in 2008.
Lieberman will use those relationships and that good will to reach out to undecided Democrats and Republicans and urge them to back the measure.
However, while one prominent TV political analyst believes that DC statehood’s not in the cards this year, he said that he thinks that supporters do have critical momentum.
In fact, DC and Puerto Rico will both be admitted to the union as the 51st and 52nd states by the end of the decade, according to NBC Meet The Press host Chuck Todd.
“Look, it has momentum. Not this year, but I call it momentum this decade. And I do think the path to D.C. statehood actually goes through the Caribbean. It goes through Puerto Rico. And in fact, the movement for Puerto Rico’s statehood has been gaining momentum, and that actually has some Republican allies,” Todd said. “So in what’s going to happen here, and I’ve talked with actually the governor of Puerto Rico a couple months ago, in my podcast, about this, he wants to work with the District, if you will, the same people organizing.
“Because in many ways, there is more openness on the right, particularly with Florida’s Republican senators, for Puerto Rico’s statehood,” Todd added. “So look, it ain’t gonna happen this year, but I think we’re going to see a new flag, probably with two more stars on it, probably by the end of this decade. I do think the momentum is there. An all-Latino state — a majority Latino state — in Puerto Rico, [and] a majority African-American state in the District. I think it’s going to happen.”
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