Back in June 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed historic legislation that would have transformed the District of Columbia into the nation's 51st state. The bill would have given the district's 712,000-plus residents the opportunity to elect a Congress member and two senators with full voting rights for the first time in the nation's history.
The bill would also have shrunk the U.S. federal capital to a small area encompassing the White House, U.S. Capitol, Supreme Court and other federal buildings along the National Mall. The rest of the city would become the 51st state.
But the bill never saw the light of day in the Republican-controled U.S. Senate. However in January 2021, after the Democrats took control of the White House and Senate, Democrats reintroduced legislation to make D.C. a state once again.
The bill was introduced by nonvoting delegate to the House, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who would have no say in its passage. Norton represents the District of Columbia and introduced the 2020 bill. Its companion bill was unveiled in the Senate by Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware.
"There's never been a time when statehood for the District was more likely," Norton said in a statement. "After the historic passage of the D.C. statehood bill in the House last June and reintroduction in the House this year with a record 202 original cosponsors, and now with Senator Carper's reintroduction of the Senate companion bill with a new record number of original cosponsors, we're ready to achieve voting representation and full local self-government for the 712,000+ residents of the District of Columbia."
Norton went on to say that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer were committed to bringing the bill to the floor for a vote and with Democrats in control of the House and the Senate, and with President Joe Biden's support, there was no better time to "correct this historic injustice and give D.C. residents the same rights as other taxpaying Americans."
On March 22, 2021, the House Oversight and Reform Committee began a hearing to debate the legislation introduced in January by Norton and Carper. The House is likely to pass the legislation again, but it has a tough battle in the evenly divided Senate, given that the bill would need 60 votes to pass (unless the Democrats eliminate the filibuster).
Most Republicans oppose the effort to make D.C. a state. Rep. James Comer, a Republican from Kentucky and the ranking member on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said he thinks the bill is "unconstitutional." Other republicans argue D.C. isn't big enough to be a state — and also that its economy is that of a city and not a state. Others, including Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina, spent time during the hearing questioning whether Democrats were using the citizens of D.C. gain power because they would likely elect two Democrats to the Senate if given the chance.
But the bill raises question: Why didn't the nation's founders make Washington, D.C., a state in the first place? When they decided to create a new national capital, why did they choose to deny residents the same representation in the national government that the rest of the nation's citizens have? As historians explain, Washington's lack of full representation has partly to do with some of the founders' desire to have a strong federal government that wasn't overly influenced by having its headquarters in a state that it was dependent upon for services and protection.
But it also has something to do with Southern slaveholders' desire to have a national capital in their territory with weak self-governance, so the so-called "peculiar institution" wouldn't face any local resistance. Even after the Civil War, segregationists in Congress fought for many years to keep control over the district's administration and deny any power to the city's heavily African American population.