WASHINGTON -- Less than 20 minutes after it began, the first hearing in more than 20 years on D.C. statehood became contentious.
The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee met Monday to discuss a bill that would make the District of Columbia America's 51st state. Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) admitted that he and ranking member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) disagreed on the issue, and Coburn didn't hesitate to call the bill a "distraction."
“Here we are again debating this issue, even though it has no chance of success in this chamber, and is dead on arrival in the House,” Coburn said of the New Columbia Act. “It will not, and cannot possibly even be considered before we go sine die,” or adjourn.
Many Washingtonians appeared to disagree with Coburn. Several tweets showed that the hearing room was at full capacity, and there was a line down the hallway in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
D.C. is home to 646,000 people, many of them disenfranchised voters who are taxed without voting representation in Congress. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who testified to the Senate committee, expressed her frustration as a non-voting member of Congress.
“Ever since the creation of the Capitol, we have been an outlier in our own country, integral to the nation, but divorced from its democratic principles,” Norton explained. “We do not wish, Mr Chairman, to be second-class stepchildren in the union, or voyeurs in democracy as you vote for how in much in taxes we will pay, or how many of our sons will go to war.”
As shown by The Washington Post, the new state, which would be called “New Columbia,” would include the city's businesses and residential areas, while the White House and Capitol Hill would remain federal property and keep the name, “District of Columbia." With D.C. statehood, city government would have a greater hand in controlling its budget and deciding local issues.
Currently, the D.C. Council can introduce and vote on a measure. But then these local government issues must survive mandatory congressional review.
The argument for D.C. statehood spans decades, with local politicians like Norton, Mayor Vincent Gray and former Mayor Marion Barry backing the cause. No statehood bill vote has been held in Congress since 1993, when it was defeated by the House.
While a large number of Democrats support the idea of a 51st state, there’s been major pushback from Republican lawmakers. Because D.C. is one of the most liberal cities in America, statehood may result in two more Democratic senators and a Democratic member of Congress.
Coburn alluded to that possibility at Monday's hearing.
“This bill also largely ignores the 23rd Amendment, which recognizes D.C. and gave its residents three electoral votes,” he said. “Granting statehood without first repealing the 23rd Amendment creates a legal and political absurdity, allowing a few residents, including the White House occupants, to be the decisive votes in a close presidential contest.”