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Democrats in Congress renew push for D.C. statehood, but it faces uphill climb in Senate

Number of Democratic co-sponsors is growing on House and Senate D.C. statehood bills, but filibuster remains obstacle.

Updated: February 16, 2021 - 10:33pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Democrats in Congress are renewing their push for Washington D.C. statehood with their party in the majority in the House and Senate.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting House member representing the District, has reintroduced the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, which has picked up 210 Democratic co-sponsors so far. Delaware Democratic Sen. Tom Carper introduced the Senate version of the bill, which has 39 Democratic co-sponsors to date. 

Under the bill, the Mayor of the District of Columbia "shall issue a proclamation for the first elections to Congress of two Senators and one Representative of the commonwealth," and the "bill applies current District laws to the commonwealth and continues pending judicial proceedings."

House Democrats passed D.C. statehood in the last session of Congress 232-180. There were no Republicans in the House who voted in favor of the bill. The statehood effort could pass in the Democrat-led House again, but it faces obstacles in the Senate due, in part, to the legislative filibuster. 

"The filibuster is just a procedural issue about whether debate ends and it proceeds to a vote," Paul Strauss, D.C.'s shadow senator, told Just the News, referring to the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster. "So obviously, if you don't get past the filibuster, you don't get a vote, but in order to get the vote you need 51 votes. Do we have 51 votes today? I can't with confidence, say that we do. We know we've got at least 40."

In the past, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has referred to the Democrats' statehood push as an attempt to pack the Senate.

"They want free health care for illegal immigrants, yet they offer no protection at all for unborn Americans," McConnell said in his GOP convention speech over the summer. "They want to pack the Supreme Court with liberals intent on eroding our constitutional rights. And they want to codify all this by making the swamp itself — Washington, D.C. — America's 51st state. With two more liberal senators we cannot undo the damage they've done."

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines and Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton were among the GOP lawmakers who opposed the Democrats' effort to pass statehood for D.C. last year.

"This is about expanding the Senate map to accommodate the most radical agenda that I've ever seen since I've been up here," Graham said at the time.

Daines said that most voters outside of the D.C. area agree with the Republican position on statehood for D.C.

Daines' office was not available for comment on the Democrats' renewed push for D.C. statehood.

South Dakota Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson has reintroduced a bill that would "cede most of Washington D.C. to the state of Maryland. Norton argued that the bill is evidence that the GOP realizes D.C. statehood is gaining steam in the new session of Congress.

"The retrocession bill demonstrates Republican fear of the momentum our D.C. statehood bill is rapidly achieving," Norton said in a statement about the District of Columbia-Maryland Reunion Act. "The retrocession bill has no support from either the District or Maryland. In fact, a huge majority of D.C. residents (86%) voted for statehood in a 2016 referendum."