Four Democratic senators have added their names as cosponsors to Senate legislation to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state in the wake of President Donald Trump ordering federal forces to crack down on a Black Lives Matter protest earlier this month.
Trump deployed federal forces to occupy some of the city’s streets against the wishes of District of Columbia officials ― something he could do only because the district isn’t a recognized state. That effort turned violent on June 1, when federal law enforcement officers tear-gassed protesters to clear them out of a park next to the White House ahead of Trump’s photo-op visit to a nearby church.
D.C. statehood proponents, furious about the federal government’s abuse of the city’s sovereignty, argued the incident should bring more lawmakers to back statehood legislation, and activists in other states have pushed their representatives to back the cause.
That pressure worked. Sen. Jackie Rosen (D-Nev.) co-sponsored the bill on June 8, and Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Michigan Democrats, and Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, signed on Monday. Now, 40 senators and 224 House members ― all Democrats or independents who caucus with Democrats ― are co-sponsors of legislation that would give Washington residents more rights to self-determination through statehood.
The goal of statehood proponents is to obtain a voting majority in both chambers of Congress and a president who will sign such legislation in 2021. Since Republicans have almost entirely abandoned even glancing support for D.C. statehood, that voting majority will come from the Democratic Party. Trump recently said that Republicans would have to be “very, very stupid” to back statehood, given that D.C.’s 700,00-plus population votes heavily Democratic. (Trump received 4.1% of the district’s in D.C. in 2016.)
Statehood would give the district two voting Senate members and one in the House.
“We want to put the bill in a place where if we have a [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi], a Senate majority leader [in Chuck Schumer of New York] and President [Joe] Biden and we have the votes lined up,” said Josh Burch, a district resident and volunteer organizer of United for D.C. Statehood. “If the Democratic Party is the party of equal rights and voting rights then they need to stand up unified in favor of D.C. statehood.”
Statehood legislation in the House, introduced by D.C.’s non-voting delegate, Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D), already has a voting majority. A total of 36 members of the Senate Democratic caucus had signed their names to the bill introduced by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) before Trump’s occupation of Washington’s streets. Rosen was the first new co-sponsor of Carper’s statehood bill following Trump’s actions.
“Americans have a constitutional right to protest. It was completely unacceptable for the president of the United States to use tear gas to clear out peaceful protestors in Washington for a photo-op,” Rosen said in a statement. “I co-sponsored legislation supporting D.C. statehood because Washingtonians deserve a full voice in Congress and in government.”
Stabenow, Peters and Tester co-sponsored the bill on Monday. Peters support is notable, given that he is ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the panel that would first consider the statehood bill in the chamber. If Democrats win control of the Senate in November, he presumably would become the chairman.
Under existing Senate rules, a statehood bill would require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and advance, which even under the most optimistic scenario for Democrats is an unlikely result of the 2020 election.
Statehood activists also face an obvious conundrum in their efforts to win support in the Senate in that they have no senators to help advance their interests.
“They can ignore us because we aren’t their constituents,” Burch said.
In order to press their cause in Congress, D.C. statehood activists have partnered with local grassroots organizations to get constituents of Democratic senators to pressure them to cosponsor Carper’s bill. Rosen’s office heard from Nevadans who supported the measure before she co-sponsored the bill.
Seven members of the Senate Democratic Caucus have not cosponsored the legislation. They are: Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Angus King (Maine), Joe Manchin (W.V.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.).
Jones is the only one facing a competitive election this year. Cantwell voted for D.C. statehood when she was in the House in 1993.
The others who aren’t co-sponsors may still back the legislation on the floor. “I would support statehood for Washington D.C. if the proposal came up for a vote in the Senate,” Whitehouse said in an emailed statement to HuffPost.
In the past, D.C. statehood activists sought support from Republicans in Congress, but interest among GOP lawmakers has collapsed in the past decade. Just three Senate Republican offices ― Susan Collins (Maine), Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Tim Scott (S.C.) ― would even meet with statehood proponents, according to Burch.
“The Republicans are just not there,” Burch said. “If we’re going to focus on Democrats, let’s do it. There really is no justification for them sitting on the sidelines on this one.”