White House endorses Washington DC statehood bill

If DC is granted statehood, it will be called the ‘Douglass Commonwealth’ in honour of abolitionist Frederick Douglass

Graig Graziosi
Tuesday 20 April 2021 16:41
The Stars and Stripes hangs over Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington DC – with an extra star symbolising the ambition of making the District of Columbia the 51st state of the USA
The Stars and Stripes hangs over Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington DC – with an extra star symbolising the ambition of making the District of Columbia the 51st state of the USA
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The Biden Administration has voiced its support for Washington DC becoming the 51st US state.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the White House unequivocally offered its endorsement to HR 51, the Washington DC Admissions Act.

"For far too long, the more than 700,000 people of Washington DC have been deprived of full representation in the US Congress. This taxation without representation and denial of self-governance is an affront to the democratic values on which our nation was founded," the statement reads.

Under HR 51, Washington DC would become a state and the federal government would maintain a district within that state as the seat of government in the US.

The Biden administration said that establishing the “State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth as the 51st state will make our Union stronger and more just”.

Rather than the “District of Columbia”, the state would take on the name “Douglass Commonwealth”, to honour statesman and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, but still keep its moniker “Washington DC”.

“Washington DC has a robust economy, a rich culture, and a diverse population of Americans from all walks of life who are entitled to full and equal participation in our democracy,” the statement said. “The administration looks forward to working with the Congress as HR 51 proceeds through the legislative process to ensure that it comports with Congress' constitutional responsibilities and its constitutional authority to admit new states to the union by legislation.”

The White House called on Congress to “provide for a swift and orderly transition to statehood for the people of Washington DC”, although it will likely be anything but.

Statehood is a perennial issue for advocates who live and pay taxes in the district.

Democrats usually support the fight for statehood, ostensibly due to the injustice of DC residents paying federal taxes but having no Congressional representation outside of a non-voting House member, but also because the district's population skews heavily liberal. Making DC a state essentially ensures Democrats will get an extra vote in the Electoral College during elections.

Likewise, Republicans have long opposed DC statehood, ostensibly because such a move would betray the intention of the founding fathers and the US Constitution, but also because they know DC would be a free vote for Democrats.

HR 51 has already been passed in the House. Making it through the Senate will be much more difficult.

While Democrats do have a tie-breaking majority in the Senate thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris and the electoral successes of US Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the bill can still – and likely will – be subject to filibuster by Republicans.

In order to beat the filibuster, Democrats would either have to secure 60 votes in the Senate, or vote to abolish the filibuster altogether.

Securing 60 votes would require Democrats to convince 10 Senate Republicans to back the bill. That's a tall order, as would be abolishing the filibuster, especially when Democrats have yet to even convince everyone in their party to back the play. Six Democrats have not co-sponsored the DC statehood bill, including Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema. Mr Manchin and Ms Sinema also oppose eliminating the filibuster.

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