This past Thursday, a major step was taken in making Washington DC, the capitol of the USA, a state. As written in Article 1 of the constitution, Washington DC represents the federal government and therefore cannot be a state. However, the House of Representatives has now voted to make DC the 51st state of the US.
For many years, the question of DC statehood has been a contentious issue, particularly in the district. Proponents of the movement say that DC should be granted statehood as it currently doesn’t get representation in congress. DC has more residents than Vermont and Wyoming combined, so many feel it is unjust that DC isn’t in the union. That said, even though DC doesn’t get representation in congress, they do get a say in Presidential elections as of 1961, when the 23rd amendment was enacted.
Opponents to DC Statehood, however, feel that DC shouldn’t get full electoral powers in federal government. Article 1 of the constitution says that the White House and Congress must remain in a district so that there is no bias in federal government, and the opponents remain insistent that this is upheld. This wouldn’t be a problem, however, as the bill in the US House has cut out a portion of DC – including Congress and the White House – to be left as a federal district; the rest would become a new state. The changing of a district’s size has been done before; some cities now in Maryland and Virginia have retroceded from the district into either state, henceforth changing the district’s shape. So DC’s proposal here is a viable one.
Both views are represented in government, but the process is still well in the works. After the bill, known as HR51, was passed in the House of Representatives, it was moved to the Senate; the Senate will now begin deliberation on the bill. If it is passed in the US Senate, the statehood bill will move to the President’s desk where Joe Biden will either veto the bill or sign it into law. A common misconception with statehood motions is that it requires an amendment to the constitution. This is not the case, however, as the current bill in motion still leaves a portion of DC as a federal district. An amendment, however, would have to follow DC’s admission to the union; this would be simply ceremonial as it would undo the action giving them the right to vote solely in Presidential elections.
While the path appears clear cut, it is an uphill road for DC in the journey to become a state. The issue is very partisan, with Democrats almost entirely for statehood and Republicans almost entirely against. While the above issues are key points for both sides, the more subtle meaning on either side of the argument is the question of getting seats in Congress. DC is the most liberal city in the country, as cited by when 90% of Washingtonians voted for Joe Biden in 2020, and this is a source of fear for Republicans. The senate is currently locked at a 50-50 split, but DC statehood would almost certainly tilt this balance in the Democrats’ favour. Hence, Republicans can be expected to unanimously vote against DC statehood.
Senate procedure has the Vice President act as a tie-breaking vote when the Senate is split, once again making one think the path would be clear cut; the Democrats effectively have the majority in the House, Senate and White House. Although, the filibuster could put the brakes on the Democrats’ plan. The filibuster means that before bringing any issue to the Senate floor, the filibuster can stop it from being voted on. For a filibuster to pass, only 40 senators need to refuse to vote on the issue, at which point the bill is failed. Consequently, Democrats need to get 10 Republican Senators onboard to prevent the filibuster and then vote on DC statehood; this is incredibly unlikely. Simultaneously, they could also vote to abolish the filibuster when voting on statehood, which would only require 50 votes. Nevertheless, this remains an unlikely option as many moderate Democrats are opposed to abolishing the filibuster in any context.
Even though the above points show that DC statehood is incredibly unlikely, there are some logistical problems that would emerge if DC was granted statehood. Washington State already exists on the Pacific Coast of the nation, so the new state couldn’t retain its name of Washington DC. Another name, however, is being suggested in Congressional procedures: Douglass Columbia. Douglass was an abolitionary activist prior to the US Civil War, and the new state would be named after him; Columbia would be maintained from the original name- District of Columbia. The central area containing Congress and the White House, would still be called Washington DC. There is also the question of who the State’s governor would be- as of now it seems that current Mayor Muriel Bowser would assume that position and a special election would be held to fill her current seat. In the federal government it is probable that Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting representative of DC in the US House, would assume the role of US representative and the two shadow Senators of DC, Paul Strauss and Mike Brown, would become the newest members of the US Senate. Like the position of Mayor, these would all be temporary appointments until a special election can be held. Finally, though not the biggest of anyone’s concerns, there would be another star added to the US flag; the location of the star will be determined later.