Nate Silver of Five Thirty Eight chatted with D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on the question of statehood — initially for Washington, D.C., but quickly bringing in Puerto Rico and other possibilities as well. Galen Druke facilitated the discussion, which you can hear fully below.
Druke asked Holmes Norton about constitutional issues. HR 51, the current D.C. statehood bill, leaves the seat of government, including the White House, as the District of Columbia, and makes the rest of the current District of Columbia a state.
Steny Hoyer now supports statehood for D.C. “Working hand in hand with Eleanor,” he described himself, “to make sure that the 700,000 Americans living in the District of Columbia have a voting representative in Congress.”
“I have come to conclude,” he said, that “the best way to get that representation is to become a state.”
What did the Founding Fathers want — and what do Americans today want?
“James Madison said… that the residents of the District of Columbia would be full citizens. I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to get there is to support the District of Columbia being a state.”
Silver reported that Americans are “ambivalent” about statehood for D.C. 37% have no opinion — and that is the most popular answer.
“On Puerto Rico,” he said, “a plurality actually favored statehood.” Silver suggested that the rising support for Puerto Rico statehood following Hurricane Maria has brought the conversation about statehood to the nation’s attention. This, he thinks, is why statehood for D.C. is back in the national conversation.
Holmes Norton broke in to say that D.C. is different from Puerto Rico because the residents pay federal income tax. She also suggested that D.C. would have just one representative, making them easier to accommodate than Puerto Rico, which has a much larger population and would therefore have more Members of Congress.
Hoyer made the point that the land of Washington, D.C. is part of the original United States, unlike Puerto Rico, which has been a territory of the United States for more than a century.
At this point in the podcast, Silver suggested consolidating the Dakotas into a single state.
Puerto Rico statehood is more popular than D.C. statehood
Agreeing that Puerto Rico statehood is different from D.C. statehood in several important ways, Druke asked whether, since statehood for Puerto Rico is the most popular of the two, it might be smart to connect the two issues.
“Lumping them together doesn’t get you anything in terms of the partisan argument,” said Hoyer, referring to concerns that admitting both D.C. and Puerto Rico could change the balance between Democrats and Republicans in the legislature. “I’m a very strong supporter, and have been for over a quarter of a century, of statehood for Puerto Rico.”
“I think the citizens of Puerto Rico, clearly a majority of them are for being a State,” Hoyer continued. “Once the citizens of Puerto Rico make it very clear they want to be a State, we ought to admit them as a State. We are not a colonial power. We don’t want to be a colonial power. We should not be a colonial power.”
Both Hoyer and Holmes Norton pointed out that Alaska and Hawaii had surprised politicians by switching their expected party allegiance. Holmes Norton mentioned that the Republican Party platform includes support for statehood for Puerto Rico and that the Island often elects Republican leaders as Resident Commissioner. Both rejected the idea that admitting Puerto Rico and D.C. together should be considered a Democratic tactic.
“97% of the people that voted [chose statehood],” Hoyer pointed out, referring to the 2017 referendum. “There were only 20 some odd percent that voted, but very frankly, we have a lot of elections on the mainland where you have 20, 25 percent vote, and the outcome is honored.”