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Former Washington Journalist
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Democrats forcefully defended Washington DC’s long-sought dream for statehood on Capitol Hill Monday, and just as strongly rebutted Republican arguments against making Washington the nation’s 51st state.
The matter of DC statehood — which residents have been fighting for, for roughly 30 years now — was the focus Monday of a congressional hearing.
DC has been fighting for statehood as a means of gaining equal voting representation in Congress. This is particularly important because DC residents pay federal taxes.
“I can chair committees. I even vote in the committee of the whole on the floor. But on that final vote there is no vote for the District of Columbia on the House floor, even when the matter involves only the District of Columbia,” said Del Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democrat who’s been DC’s non-voting delegate in Congress for decades. “And no votes in the Senate, and I have to go to the Senate to find allies. Fortunately, I’m often able to do so. What we want is equal representation with other Americans. And we are very, very hopeful that that is occurring because the latest poll showed that after the last hearing 54 percent of the American people support statehood for the people of the District of Columbia.”
DC is closer than ever before. The House last year for the first time approved legislation granting statehood, creating the state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth named in memory of Frederick Douglass, the famed Black American orator, abolitionist and statesman.
However, the bill languished in the Republican Senate. Most Republicans oppose DC statehood on the grounds that DC’s overwhelming Democratic tilt would nearly automatically give Democrats one more member of the House and two US senators.
However, this year, the unified control of the federal government under Democrats has given DC statehood advocates new hope.
Sen Tom Carper of Delaware introduced the latest DC statehood bill just a day after the Inauguration of President Biden.
Rep Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass) cast DC statehood as a matter of the racial justice with which the nation is wrestling.
“There have been only two black elected governors in the history of this country, Massachusetts had one of them, Deval Patrick. Now more than 230 years, only two black governors. I will make a play. D.C. statehood is a racial justice issue. Racism kills,” Pressley said. “And I don’t just mean police brutality and hate crimes and food apartheid systems and transportation deserts and unequal access to healthcare. I mean all of that too, but racism kills our democracy.”
It’s also a fight against big-money interests, according to Rep Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich).
“In opposing D.C. statehood, which is overwhelmingly supported by the people of Washington, these representatives and their dark money backers over at the Heritage Foundation — that’s right — are telling over 700,000 Americans to sit down, shut up and enjoy this authoritarian system implemented by a bunch of elites who thought it was okay to enslave people for their selfish monetary gain hundreds of years ago,” she said. “It is shameful that anyone would claim to support democracy and freedom and oppose statehood.”
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) handily parried some typical Republican alternatives so as to avoid full statehood.
That included so-called “retrocession,” in which the city of Washington would be returned to, and made part of, the state of Maryland.
“We’re not residents of Maryland, Congressman. We are residents of Washington D.C.. And I am reminded of a similar question being posed to the people of the territory of Arizona. And they resoundingly said —” Bowser began before being cut off by a Republican lawmaker reclaiming his time.
Bowser got drawn in — but stood her ground — on a hypothetical offer made by freshman Rep Andrew Clyde (R-Ga) to do away with DC’s federal tax obligation in exchange for dropping statehood.
For clarity and fullness, we are reproducing the full exchange below:
CLYDE: “So, if the residents of D.C. were exempted from, say, 50 percent of federal taxes because they have some representation already, would that be acceptable?”
BOWSER: “It is not acceptable, nor do I think it would be acceptable to the residents of your district i they were asked to not get full representation. And so I don’t know —”
CLYDE: “But your residents would not pay federal taxes, just like Puerto Rico does not pay federal taxes, or Guam or Mariana Islands or American Samoa. They’re not a member of the state, they are a district, they’re a territory, they’re similar to a territory. So I think that would be fair.”
BOWSER: “Well, I’m not aware of a bill before the Congress that would take away billions of dollars from the federal Treasury, the billions that we contribute to the federal Treasury each year. That has not been —”
CLYDE: “But that would achieve taxation without representation, correct?”
BOWSER: “I think that it would take away us paying taxes, and I think that would be a detriment to the union. What we are saying — we’re not trying to shirk our responsibilities as Americans, congressman. We are demanding full equality.”
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