Statehood For Washington, D.C., Gets A Hearing In Congress The measure is expected to pass the House but faces long odds in the Senate, leading some advocates to call for the end of the legislative filibuster.

With Stronger Democratic Support, D.C. Statehood Fight Returns To Capitol Hill

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The license plates for D.C. residents read - in big, bold letters - end taxation without representation. It's a rallying cry against D.C.'s lack of direct voting power in the U.S. Congress. As NPR's Barbara Sprunt reports, statehood advocates are hopeful that what was once seen as a liberal pipe dream is now gaining traction.

BARBARA SPRUNT, BYLINE: Thirty years ago, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton first introduced a bill for Washington, D.C., statehood. She's back at it. And this time, she says, it feels different.

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: We've gotten off of the wish list to an approach of a new reality.

SPRUNT: Norton says she's encouraged by national polls that suggest growing support for statehood and the record number of co-sponsors the House legislation and its Senate counterpart have. Her bill would shrink the size of the federal district and admit the remaining area as the nation's 51st state. But Republicans stand universally opposed, arguing it would take a constitutional amendment to admit D.C. as a state. Here's Georgia Congressman Jody Hice during today's House oversight hearing.


JODY HICE: The Democratic Party attempting a political power grab of obtaining more signatures. That's entirely what this is all about.

SPRUNT: That phrase - power grab - is a constant in GOP messaging on statehood, referring to the fact that the district votes overwhelmingly for Democrats and would likely elect two Democratic senators. But Norton tells NPR that at its core, statehood is not about politics.

HOLMES NORTON: All we're looking for is equality with other Americans, especially since we pay the highest federal taxes per capita in the United States.

SPRUNT: She notes that D.C. has a population of over 700,000 residents - larger than Wyoming and Vermont. Last year, when the House first passed Norton's bill, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas dismissed that point.


TOM COTTON: Wyoming is a well-rounded, working-class state. A new state of Washington would not be.

SPRUNT: It was a barb that stung many residents in the district, including business owner Dionna Dorsey Calloway.

DIONNA DORSEY CALLOWAY: You can't see me, but I'm having an emotional reaction. My eyes are watering. You can probably hear my voice quivering a bit because I just - it's disgusting. It's erasure of an entire population of people here in Washington.

SPRUNT: Advocates argue statehood is also a civil rights issue, as most of D.C.'s residents are minorities.

STASHA RHODES: We do believe this is one of the most important racial justice fights of our time.

SPRUNT: That's Stasha Rhodes, campaign manager of 51 for 51, a statehood campaign.

RHODES: From our perspective, leaving 700,000 mostly Black and brown residents without a vote in Congress is racism. D.C. residents pay federal taxes and serve in the military but have no vote in Congress. This is an injustice and, honestly, a stain on American democracy.

SPRUNT: Norton's bill is all but guaranteed passage in the House. There's broad support from Democrats in the Senate and the White House, but there's a roadblock.

ELI ZUPNICK: The Senate has a big brick wall in front of it called the filibuster that House bills are passing and slamming right into.

SPRUNT: That's Eli Zupnick of Fix Our Senate, a campaign focused on eliminating the legislative filibuster, which requires a 60-senator threshold to advance most bills. Not all Senate Democrats are on board with eliminating the maneuver, arguing it's meant to protect the minority party. But unless that brick wall is eliminated or changed, D.C. statehood goes back to being on the Democratic wish list.

Barbara Sprunt, NPR News, Washington.


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