The House of Representatives voted on Friday to admit the District of Columbia as a state. The state, including 66 of the current 68 square miles of the District, would be named Washington, Douglass Commonwealth in honor of Frederick Douglass.
The remaining two square miles would be the new federal District. It would include the White House, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, and the Federal monuments.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) began the floor debate, speaking of her personal commitment to statehood as a third generation resident of the District of Columbia. She touched on the fact that D.C. pays a significant amount in taxes, the National Guard was called in to suppress recent protests, and to the limited coronavirus response provided for D.C. and the territories.
“Congress has two choices,” Norton said. “It can continue to exercise undemocratic or autocratic authority over the 705,000 American citizens who reside in our Nation’s capital, treating them, in the words of Frederick Douglass, as ‘aliens; not citizens, but subjects’; or Congress can live up to this Nation’s promise and ideals and pass H.R. 51.”
Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) expressed his opinion that D.C. should not be a State, since that would give it more influence than other States over the federal government. “The Constitution clearly establishes a federation of sovereign States, and representation here in Washington, D.C., comes from those States, the federation of those States. This District is a unique entity. It was set apart to not be influenced by a State, but to, in itself, be governed by those representatives of the various States who are here,” he said. “Our Founders did not want this city, the seat of our Federal Government, to be influenced by any other State, but that is exactly what this proposal would do.”
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) spoke in favor of the bill, saying, “We will vote to honor the most fundamental principles of this Nation and for which a revolution was launched: no taxation without representation and consent of the governed. I I can think of no more honorable or patriotic endeavor than taking up this legislation today to give the people of the District the same rights enjoyed by hundreds of millions of other Americans across our country.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also spoke about democracy. “Statehood for the District is about showing respect for our democracy,” she said. “The Constitution begins with our beautiful preamble, ‘’We the People,’’ setting out our Founder’s vision of a government of, by, and for the people of the United States. It doesn’t say, ‘except for the District of Columbia.’ Yet, for more than two centuries, the residents of Washington, D.C., have been denied their right to fully participate in our democracy.”
Rep. Greg Murphy (R-NC) proposed that the residential part of Washington, D.C., could be ceded back to Maryland rather than forming a new State.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) objected to the idea. “[T]his just isn’t working out anymore for the people of Washington. The relationship you have taken for granted for so long with the local population is dysfunctional and, frankly, abusive. Plainly put, the people of Washington want out,” he said.”The people of Washington have found someone and something else. They have voted to break up this dysfunctional relationship with Congress to start a healthy and respectful relationship with America…. A mature and faithful Congress that wants the best for all of its people is not afraid of statehood. We celebrate it. We delight in it.”
Many members of the House spoke about citizenship and the question of whether residents of D.C. experience full citizenship as the residents of States do. “[W]hen some Americans are denied the full rights and representation of citizenship, it diminishes the meaning of citizenship for all,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD). “Statehood is not merely a status; it is a recognition by the rest of the States of the sovereign equality of the people who live there that they are part of the main, not simply an island, as the poet reflected, and that they cannot be treated as lesser by their fellow citizens.”
“By admitting Washington, D.C., as a State,” Hoyer continued, “we will admit what we already know to be true: that its people are our fellow Americans, equal in their pursuit of happiness and their enjoyment of the full rights and privileges of American citizenship, including representation in the Congress of the United States.”
Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) spoke on the same subject, reminding her listeners that she also lives without full participation in U.S. citizenship. “[T]he United States territories that I represent are also not on equal footing with the rest of the Nation. There is no representation in the U.S. Senate. No equal voting representation in the House of Representatives. Unlike D.C., we cannot vote for President. We know what it is like to be part of the greatest country in the world but not a full participant, and it feels incomplete,” she said. “It is a punishment to Americans living in the capital, including those working in policy or public service for the good of the Nation, to be disenfranchised when they establish a home in the District.”