Washington DC statehood prospects are finally heating up

A quick civics lesson, Congress is made up of the Senate and the House. In the Senate, each state sends two Senators to represent their state. In the House, a state’s representation is based on its population by Congressional District, which currently averages 700,000 people. The number of voting representatives in the House is fixed by law at no more than 435 for the 50 states, so the population average of 700,000 changes.

The process for statehood is inexact. Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution empowers Congress to grant statehood, but the process is unspecified. It says that a state can not be created by splitting or merging existing states without approval of both Congress and the states’ legislatures. Otherwise, conditions are determined on a case-by-case basis. Just two examples, Puerto Rico successfully ratified its constitution establishing it as a U.S. territory, but the Cold War, Vietnam, September 11th, placed statehood on the back burner of Congress for 60 years, an Alaska took almost a century to gain statehood. That brings us to a bill for Washington D.C. statehood, which the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on in the next week.

D.C. with about 700,000 residents already has (non-voting) representation in the House with Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, who first introduced the bill for D.C. statehood thirty years ago. Full statehood would gain two Senate seats for D.C., most likely for the Democrats. Before the vote, Congressional hearings will present arguments. Republicans’ main argument against statehood is to prevent Democrats from gaining two Senate seats, bringing attention to their unending hypocrisy. In 1889 Republicans split the Dakota Territory into two states so they could pick up four new Senators instead of two, and they continue to block statehood of D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam. Democrats argue that tax-paying D.C. residents deserve full representation in Congress.

Another issue is the 23rd Amendment which gave D.C. residents three presidential electoral votes in 1961. Statehood for D.C. would give those three electoral votes to the residents of the remaining shrunken federal district, the White House. Solutions range from a repeal of the 23rd Amendment, to splitting those presidential electoral votes: two for the winner, and one for the loser.

  

With the filibuster, Democrats do not have the votes for the 60-senator threshold to advance the D.C. statehood bill. But in 2017, the Senate changed the rule so only 51 votes were needed to confirm Supreme Court justices. The movement called 51 for 51 is trying to change the Senate rule so only 51 votes are needed for D.C. statehood.

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