By James Wright Jr.
D.C. statehood supporters understand they face a new divided U.S. Congress with a Democratic-led Senate and a slim Republican majority in the House in the new congressional session that will begin in January, but they are determined to continue their push for the District to become the 51st state.
“The Democrats managed to hold on to the Senate and it looks like Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell will have a lot less power for the next two years,” said Anise Jenkins, executive director of Stand Up! for Democracy in DC Coalition, a pro-statehood organization. “The Republicans have won the House but it could have been far worse. We need to make it clear that D.C. statehood is not about politics. This is a civil rights issue. The people who live in D.C. are entitled to full citizenship and full representation in the Congress.”
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) have introduced a District statehood bill in their respective chambers in recent years. Norton’s bill was passed by the House in June 2020 and April 2021, while Carper’s companion legislation received a hearing 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 D.C. statehood bill if it reaches his desk.
D.C. Leaders Look to the New Session
When it became clear that Republicans had a strong chance to retake the House on Nov. 8, Norton said she has found a way to work with Republicans in the past.
“I have spent most of my time in Congress in the minority,” she said at a District Democratic Party celebration. “We have been able to get things done with Republicans in charge.”
Norton, who has represented the District in the House since 1991, said she will continue to block the efforts of Republican representatives and senators to impose their will on the city through legislative meddling. Congress has the power to impose laws on the District because the city lacks statehood, Norton said.
“That is why we need statehood so the Congress can leave the District alone and manage itself,” she said.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser agrees with Norton about congressional meddling. However, she said the new GOP majority in the House doesn’t concern her.
“It doesn’t matter what they think, it matters what D.C. residents think,” Bowser said on Nov. 9 at a news conference, WTOP reported. “We will do with them what we’ve 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 has worked with three different presidents and control of the Congress by both Democrats and Republicans. The mayor said it is her hope that the Congress can move forward on some pro-District priorities before the new congressional session starts.
“There’s still time for our friends in Congress to advance D.C. priorities right now,” Bowser said. “We know there’s judges at stake. There are federal lands at stake. And of course, a vote on statehood could still happen in the Senate. We will continue that push during this period; and should things change, we will approach working with the Congress the way we always have.”
D.C. Shadow Rep. Oye Owolewa (D) said he will continue to work to build grassroots support for D.C. statehood among the states when the new Congress takes power next year.
“I am well aware that a D.C. statehood bill won’t pass in the House with the Republicans in control,” Owolewa said. “My team and I will visit states like Georgia and West Virginia to build support. We will also seek to get the support of young people across the nation. They have voting power and we want to make sure they know what the statehood cause 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 its advocacy until District residents are full citizens of the U.S.
“That means full representation in the Congress with a voting member of the House and two senators because we pay federal taxes and have all of the obligations of citizenships,” she said. “I think it is a crime that we pay taxes and cannot control our own destiny.”