The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on June 26th on whether the District of Columbia should become a state. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer are connecting the vote with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“This is not just an issue of local governance and fairness, it is a major civil rights issue as well,” Hoyer said. “This was an appropriate time to bring a bill forward to show respect for the citizens of the District of Columbia of whatever color, but also to show respect to a city that has a very large African American population.”
Pelosi said, “This deprivation of statehood is unjust, unequal, undemocratic and unacceptable.”
The last time Congress held a vote on this question was in 1993, when the measure failed.
Currently, Washington, D.C. has a single delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, in Congress. She is in the same position as Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon. Both represent their constituents. They can introduce bills and vote in the committees they serve on. However, they do not have meaningful votes in the full Congress. Currently, both can vote on legislation. However, if their votes would actually make a difference to the outcome, they are not counted.
If D.C. becomes a state, the residents will be represented by two senators, as all states are, plus one member of the House of Representatives. The number of representatives in the House is based on population. D.C., with about 700,000 residents, is more populous than Vermont or Wyoming. Puerto Rico, by the way, is larger than 21 states and would have two senators and five members of Congress if it were a state.
The D.C. statehood movement
Washington D.C., like Puerto Rico, pays taxes and sends men and women to serve in the U.S. military. Residents of D.C. also pay federal income tax. They have voted in favor of statehood.
If D.C. becomes a state, there will be a section off two square miles which will house the federal government and serve as the nation’s capital. The rest of the district will become the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth. The name honors Fredrick Douglass, an activist and writer who escaped from slavery and fought for civil rights throughout his life.
79% of D.C.’s voters supported this plan in a 2016 referendum.
The 23rd Amendment to the Constitution, which gave residents of D.C. the power to vote in presidential elections, would be repealed. The new capitol would not include any residential areas; however, if people lived there in future, they could vote by absentee ballot from the state where they previously lived.
While the House is expected to pass the bill, the Senate would also have to approve before D.C. could become a state.
Mitch McConnell said in an interview last year that he did not want to see statehood for D.C. or for Puerto Rico. “They plan to make the District of Columbia a state — that would give them two new Democratic senators — Puerto Rico a state, that would give them two more new Democratic senators,” he said. “This is full-bore socialism on the march in the House, and yeah, as long as I’m the majority leader of the Senate, none of that stuff is going anywhere.”
D.C. does generally vote Democratic, but this is not true of Puerto Rico, which has voted for both Republicans like Gonzalez-Colon and Democrats like her predecessor, Pedro Pierluisi.
While 40 of the 100 senators have signed on to the Senate bill as cosponsors, according to the Washington Post, McConnell has stated that he will not allow a vote on the question in the Senate. President Trump has also said that he will not sign a statehood bill if the Senate passes it and sends it to him. However, previous presidents have failed to sign statehood bills, and those bills have been signed by the next president.
Will this affect Puerto Rico?
If D.C. becomes a state, that could improve Puerto Rico’s chances. There is a tradition of admitting states in pairs. While the pairs have, since the Civil War, been Republican and Democratic, there is no possible Republican state on the horizon to match with D.C., which would very probably be a blue state. Puerto Rico is most likely to be a swing state.
If D.C. does not win statehood this time, Puerto Rico might still benefit from the increased awareness of the importance of statehood and, as Pelosi put it, the “unjust, unequal, undemocratic and unacceptable” deprivation of statehood of U.S. citizens requesting that status.