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As Congress prepares to take up D.C. statehood, national support grows

 

As the House prepares to take up the issue this week of statehood for the District of Columbia, a new national poll finds that 54% of likely voters think D.C. should be a state, a record high level of support.

The poll, conducted by Data for Progress and the progressive advocacy coalition Democracy for All 2021 Action and shared first with CBS News, shows 74% of Democratic respondents approve of statehood for D.C., along with 34% of Republicans.

The poll found that clear majorities among likely voters in urban (57%) and suburban (56%) areas, as well as in swing states (57%), support D.C. statehood to allow for voting representation in Congress. About half of voters in rural areas of the country agree.

On Monday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform is holding a hearing on a bill to establish D.C. as the nation’s 51st state.

In January, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District in Congress as a non-voting delegate, reintroduced H.R. 51, which would create the state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth – named for Frederick Douglass. The measure would give D.C. two U.S. senators and a voting representative in the House.

The House passed a bill to make D.C. a state last year by a vote of 232-180, but it died in the Republican-led Senate.

Statehood proponents hope this time is different, since Democrats now control the House, the Senate, and the White House.

“The enfranchisement of 712,000 D.C. residents is a top priority for the Oversight and Reform Committee,” Chairwoman Caroline Maloney said in a statement to CBS News. Calling it a “civil rights issue,” Maloney continued, “After years of stagnation, we are witnessing a real and sustained momentum behind D.C. Statehood.”

The bill has 215 co-sponsors, and its passage in the House is all but inevitable. Senator Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware, has introduced a companion bill in the Senate, with 40 of the 50 Democratic senators signed on as co-sponsors. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has committed to bringing the bill to the Senate Floor.

Proponents argue D.C. statehood is necessary because the city’s majority-Black and Brown population is disenfranchised by their lack of representation in Congress. D.C. would be the only plurality-Black state in the country if statehood were to pass.

Norton and other proponents note D.C. pays more in federal taxes than 21 states and more per capita than any state, according to 2019 IRS data. The District also has a larger population than Vermont and Wyoming but has limited non-voting representation in Congress – Norton may draft legislation but cannot vote. D.C. has no vote in the U.S. Senate.

Norton was encouraged by the poll’s findings. “This now has captured the majority of American voters, which makes us believe that the watchword, ‘taxation without representation,’ is on its way out,”  she told CBS News in an interview. She maintained that last year’s congressional hearings on the bill informed Americans about how little authority the District’s officials have over their own territory. Congress has exclusive jurisdiction over the nation’s capital, meaning local legislation, including the D.C. budget, must be approved by Congress.

The Capitol riot and the delay in getting National Guard reinforcements “helped further educate the American people, because on January 6th, the then-President kept our D.C. National Guard from coming to rescue the Capitol,” Norton said. “They were delayed three hours. And during that three hours, a lot of damage was done”

Governors have the authority to deploy their National Guard, but in the District, that power lies with the federal government. “Not even having control over your own National Guard means you can’t save the Capitol and maybe you can’t even save yourselves.”

Norton has introduced a bill that would give the District’s mayor the ability to activate the D.C. National Guard, and she expects it to pass the House.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has urged Congress to get the statehood bill to President Biden, who has said in the past that he favors it. In a briefing last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki affirmed he still believes District residents “deserve representation,” adding, “that’s why he supports D.C. statehood.”

But statehood faces staunch opposition by Republicans, who argue it’s an attempt by Democrats to shore up their majorities by adding more seats in Congress. D.C. voters overwhelmingly vote Democratic – President Biden won 92% of the District’s vote.

“D.C. statehood is all about Speaker Pelosi and liberal Democrats consolidating their power to enact radical policies nationwide like the Green New Deal, packing the Supreme Court, and eliminating the filibuster,” said Congressman James Comer, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, in a statement about Monday’s hearing. “The Democrats’ bill is unconstitutional and no amount of testimony can change that basic fact.” He called the bill “a dangerous political power grab.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has referred to D.C. statehood as “full-bore socialism.”

Though Democrats hold a razor-thin majority in the Senate, the bill would need 10 Republican supporters to overcome a filibuster blocking the bill. Statehood activists have called for the elimination of the filibuster, which would allow the measure to be approved with only 51 votes.

There is currently a heated debate in the Senate surrounding filibuster reform or its elimination. In an interview last week with ABC News, President Biden endorsed a return to the “talking filibuster,” which would require a senator to speak continuously on the floor to sustain an objection to a bill. However, at this point, Democrats lack the votes to eliminate it.

But even if the measure fails to pass this year, Norton remains hopeful. “In 2022, I do think we will have a better chance for statehood in both houses,” she said, based on her belief that Democrats will maintain their edge in the House and expand their majority in the Senate.

Every time statehood faces congressional hearings or is brought to the floor for a vote, the issue gets more attention, she said. “I’m making good use of every time we do it to increase support for D.C. statehood around the country,” Norton said. “…Statehood is a major bill, a major change in our country, but it’s a change that the polls show the American people want to see.”



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