Push for DC Statehood Wrangles Supporters on the Left

WASHINGTON  (CN) – A top member of House leadership came out in favor of statehood for Washington, D.C., on Thursday, as support for the idea in the Democratic party builds.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he would “be proud” to bring a bill giving the nation’s capital statehood and with it, representation in Congress. Hoyer is a co-sponsor with Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton — the nonvoting member in the House who represents the District of Columbia — of a bill that would make D.C. the 51st state.

“Americans in the District have been denied not only a member with full voting rights in the House of Representatives but also two U.S. senators – simply because of where they live,” Hoyer wrote. “This continues even while the District is larger in population than two states and comparable to two others.”

Hoyer said he was initially “hesitant” about statehood because he thought there were other ways to give Washington residents representation without having to undertake difficult political maneuvers.

The op-ed coincides meanwhile with an endorsement by the ACLU of  Norton’s bill, as well as companion legislation Senator Tom Carper introduced in the Senate. The bill would give Washington, D.C., two senators and a member of the House, turning the city’s mayor into a governor and the city council into a state assembly.

Currently, the city of more than 700,000 people has Norton as its only representative in Congress. While she does have a seat on committees, Norton is not allowed to vote on the House floor.  The city, which has a larger population than two states, does not have representation in the Senate.

If it were to become a state, the city’s political breakdown would likely send Democrats to Congress — a potentially key influx for the party in the Senate where Republicans outnumber Democrats 53-47.  

The legislation would change the name of the new state in a way friendly to the city’s existing signage, calling it Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, after the abolitionist Frederick Douglass. 

Monica Hopkins, executive director of the ACLU of the District of Columbia, said she hopes people will see the “decades-old injustice” of a city without voting rights and support D.C. statehood.

“It is deeply ironic that the people who reside in our nation’s capital, a symbol of American freedom and democracy throughout the world, lack full representation and self-government,” Hopkins said in a statement Thursday. “These rights are the foundation of our democracy.”

The move to admit the District into the union has gained mainstream support among Democrats recently, with the party officially endorsing statehood for the first time in more than a decade as part of its official party platform in 2016.

Norton also announced on Thursday that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold a hearing on her statehood bill in July.

Republicans have been resistant to the idea, saying in their 2016 party platform that statehood for D.C. could only come through a constitutional amendment.

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