Congressmen have recently introduced three bills that could potentially stymie D.C.'s statehood efforts.
As D.C. leaders and residents continue to push hard for statehood, politicians on Capitol Hill are pushing back.
In the past week, three Republican lawmakers have introduced bills that would counteract D.C.'s efforts to become the 51st state, either by putting most of the District into a new county in Maryland or by restricting the number of Senators a new state might have.
These bills follow new momentum in the push to give District residents voting representation in both chambers of Congress and have full autonomy over its local laws and budget. On June 26, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass a bill approving D.C. statehood, the first time a chamber of Congress has ever passed such legislation. Statehood legislation is unlikely to gain favor with a GOP-controlled Senate and White House, but a blue wave in the November elections could drastically change the equation.
D.C.'s Delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, said Republicans' sudden interest in D.C. proves that, for perhaps the first time in the District's 230-year history, statehood is a real possibility on the horizon.
"Republicans fear statehood more than they have in the past, and they're showing it," she told WAMU/DCist.
Two of the bills introduced this week, H.R. 8539 and H.R. 8516, call for D.C. to retrocede to Maryland. The vast majority of the city would become a new Maryland county, and Congress would oversee a shrunken down federal district comprised of the area around the U.S. Capitol, National Mall and White House. (Neither of the bills have any text attached, so there isn't much more to add in terms of details.)
While District residents would gain Congressional representation by becoming Marylanders, they would lose their ability to control their own laws and budget. Most importantly to Congressional Republicans, retrocession would avoid adding more seats to the Senate and House (Washingtonians overwhelmingly vote Democrat.)
"We have an opportunity to give them United States senators," Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD), the sponsor of H.R. 8539, told WAMU/DCist. When asked if D.C.'s Congressional representation is a policy priority for his constituents in South Dakota, Johnson said "it's not one of the top two or three issues they talk about, for sure," though it does come up "periodically."
Rep. Morgan H. Griffith (R-VA), who sponsored H.R. 8516, did not respond to a request for comment.
The third bill, H.J.Res. 97, favors a different approach. Its sponsor, Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) proposes amending the U.S. Constitution to block the expansion of the U.S. Senate beyond 100 members. (Constitutionally, each state gets two senators.)
Norton calls Walker's proposal "incoherent."
"It ignores, and does not even try to repeal, the requirement in Article V of the Constitution 'that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate,'" she said in a statement. "All of this, though, is merely constitutional speculation because, unlike D.C. statehood, this amendment is going nowhere."
Advocates for D.C. statehood largely dismiss the idea of retrocession, citing District residents' overwhelming support for 51st statehood and desire for autonomy. In a 2016 referendum, 79% of D.C. voters cast ballots in favor of statehood.
"Their legislation would force Maryland to annex land away from the Nation's capital in an blatant attempt to destroy the self-determination of Marylanders and Washingtonians alike," Bo Shuff, the executive director of the statehood advocacy organization DC Vote, said in a statement about the two retrocession bills.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also doesn't think much of the Republican congressmen's ideas. "I don't support retrocession," Bowser told DCist/WAMU in September. "And I don't think the people of Maryland would either."
Only 28% of Marylanders supported annexing D.C., in a 2016 poll by Public Policy Polling, one of the only recent polls on the subject. 44% opposed it.
The June House vote on statehood fell largely along party lines: Only one Democrat voted against it, and no Republicans supported it, bringing the final vote tally to 232-180.
Maryland's entire House delegation supported the bill, except for one member: Rep. Andy Harris, the delegation's only Republican. Harris has made a name for himself opposing D.C. autonomy. He's repeatedly blocked D.C. from spending its own money on creating a tax-and-regulate system for marijuana. He also led unsuccessful pushes to roll back D.C.'s Death With Dignity Act and keep District from voting on decriminalizing magic mushrooms.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has stayed largely quiet on the topic of retrocession, which would add around 705,000 people and a major metropolitan area to his state. Hogan's office did not respond to a request for comment.
The statehood bill still needs to pass the Senate and get signed by the president to become law. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not indicated whether he'll consider taking up the bill for a vote this fall.
This story is part of 51st, a six-part podcast series about Washingtonians' fight for representation. Subscribe here.