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House approves landmark legislation for Washington D.C. statehood, Senate shuts it down

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Historic vote marks the first time a chamber of Congress has backed legislation to make the country’s capital a state. 

On Friday, the Democrat-majority, House of Representatives, voted on and passed H.R. 51, a bill for Washington D.C. statehood. The decision ended in a 232-180 vote largely along party lines. Under the legislation, D.C.’s 700,000 residents would be granted one voting representative in the House and two in the Senate rather than a single delegate.

The historic piece of proposed legislation, and its passing sent shockwaves through the federal territory, nicknamed Chocolate City for its once, overwhelmingly predominant African American population. DC mayor, Muriel Bowser, a native Washingtonian tweeted: “I was born without representation, but I swear – I will not die without representation. Together, we will achieve #DCStatehood, and when we do, we will look back on this day and remember all who stood with us on the right side of history.”

D.C. Delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) proposed the bill. “As we approach July 4, it is time we apply the nation’s oldest slogan, ‘No taxation without representation and without consent of the governed’ in the District of Columbia,” she said on the House floor. While Delegate Holmes proposed the measure, in a twist of irony, she could not vote under current laws.

For the Senate-GOP majority, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) accused the Democrats’ effort as a power-grab. In a FOX news interview, Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), said that this measure was “full bore socialism.” He further promised that “as I’m the majority leader of the Senate, none of that stuff is going anywhere.” It’s expected that the Senate will vote to oppose D.C.’s statehood.

Another significant opposition of H.R. 51 is from President Donald Trump. Last month, he rebuked the proposed bill in an interview with the New York Post. In the talk, he said that D.C. would never become a state because it puts more Democrats in the House and Senate.

In 1993, advocates tried and failed to pass the measure in the House. If the bill passes, the official name of the nation’s capital was poised to become, Washington, Douglas Commonwealth, rather than its current District of Columbia. The name change was to honor the famous abolitionist, feminist and race man, Frederick Douglass, who spent the last 17 years of his life in D.C. Nonetheless, Friday’s vote indicated that times have changed.

Abuse of federal power

Under President Trump, DC protesters felt the brunt of how the president can use a federal territory. During demonstrations sparked by the death of Minneapolis resident, George Floyd in May, President Trump responded aggressively. Without consulting local officials, he sent out 5000 National Guard troops to patrol and disperse protesters in the district . He also directed law-enforcement to attack peaceful protesters for a photo-op in front of a church.

| Read: Two sides to every city |

D.C.’s lack of statehood means that the National Guard is commanded by the President, not a governor. As a result, President Trump did not have to invoke the Insurrection Act that allows the president to call up the National Guard in other states in the country without consulting their respective governors. His reaction was like putting salt to a wound—a painful reminder of the limitations the city has over its own jurisdiction.

In response to President Trump’s use of the military against protesters, Mayor Bowser commissioned staff from the Public Works Department to rename a stretch of Sixteenth Street, Black Lives Matter Plaza. To add to her strong opposition of President Trump, she also ordered artists to paint the words, Black Live Matter, in a bright yellow on the thoroughfare.

Representation matters

The passing of the bill is a welcome victory in a city that has boasted a majority-minority population for decades, but continues to disenfranchise Black and non-Black people of color by denying them the opportunity to vote for their own representatives in Congress. Evidenced during the COVID-19 pandemic, D.C. residents were not eligible to receive federal stimulus checks because the district was treated as a territory rather than a state, further disenfranchising its residents.

| Read: Protests in the nation’s capitol highlights the history of DC natives, fight against gentrification |

Some have also been quick to point out that D.C. has a larger population than both Vermont and Wyoming and that D.C. residents pay more federal taxes in total than 22 states.

“More than 46% of its 700,000 residents are Black,” Representative Maxine Waters (D.) said during floor debate. “Make no mistake. Race underlies every argument against D.C. statehood. And denying its citizens equal participation and representation is a racial, democratic, and economic injustice we cannot tolerate.”

For many generations, Washington DC served as one of the few major cities that hosted a Black middle class. With the ongoing gentrification and erosion of Black wealth, DC has become a battleground for racial and economic equality. If the district becomes a state, it will boost Black and non-Black people of color representation in both the Senate and House.

Sara Elroubi

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