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Does Inaugural display symbolizing 56 U.S. states, territories signal Biden support for new states?

New statehood among liberal-leaning territories would aid the Democratic Party in the Electoral College.

Published: January 19, 2021 6:56pm

Updated: January 20, 2021 12:08am

President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration decor touting 56 U.S. states and territories provokes new questions about whether Biden will push for new statehood for six U.S. territories, which could aid the Democratic Party in the Electoral College.

Under the U.S. Constitution, statehood requires only a simple majority in Congress, which could be achieved if Democrats decide to remove the 60-vote filibuster threshold currently in place in the Senate.

As part of the "Field of Flags" display at the National Mall ahead of Biden's inauguration, the Presidential Inaugural Committee planted nearly 200,000 state and territory flags on Monday night, meant to represent the American people unable to travel to Washington, D.C., for Inauguration Day due to the COVID-19 pandemic and security threats. 

Fifty-six pillars of neon blue light, representing the U.S. states and territories, were also lit up for 46 seconds to mark the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States, Joe Biden. The prominent light beams were reminiscent of the grounds of the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan.

Biden has said he supports statehood for Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The Biden transition team did not respond to a request for comment from Just the News about Biden's position on additional territories or about the inaugural display as a possible symbolic nod to possible statehood. Other U.S. territories with permanent civilian populations include Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Mario H. Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, who describes himself as "a mainstream conservative with a handful of libertarian leanings," told Just the News he believes "that displaying flags for American territories is entirely appropriate in government buildings and ceremonies, including those related to military." Lopez noted that citizens of those territories are American citizens by birth. 

"Hawaii was a territory at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, and of course no one at the time doubted that Japan had attacked America,” Lopez noted. "There has been discussion of admitting D.C. and Puerto Rico as states but to my knowledge nothing about the other territories, not even from their elected representatives in Congress." 

Politically, Lopez said the differences between D.C. and Puerto Rico "are substantial," with Puerto Rico electing Republicans to its Legislative Assembly and its governorship "with substantial frequency," including the current Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez. 

Historian Jason Steinhauer told Just the News on Tuesday that the National World War II Memorial "serves as a useful reference point for the Field of Flags display" because it contains 56 pillars representing each state and territory from its period, including the District of Columbia. Those 56 pillars represented a different assortment of states and territories from that time period: 48 states, plus the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Steinhauer noted that memorial opened in 2004, during the George W. Bush administration. 

However, Steinhauer said: "I would not be surprised if the issue of D.C. statehood arises during the 117th Congress. D.C.'s population is approaching 700,000 people, none of whom presently have direct representation in the House or Senate."

In the aftermath of the deadly mob invasion of the U.S. Capitol, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) pushed for more local control and continued to push for D.C. statehood.  

"The mayor should not be reliant on the president to deploy the National Guard to protect public safety in D.C., and D.C. should never have to worry that a president will take over its police force and use it how he or she sees fit," Norton said in a press statement on Jan. 7. "While we fight for D.C. statehood, Congress now has all the evidence it needs to pass the District of Columbia National Guard Home Rule Act and the District of Columbia Police Home Rule Act," she said.

On Tuesday, Norton announced that her guest for Biden's inauguration was Hector Rodriguez, founder and chair of Veterans United for D.C. Statehood. (Norton said members of Congress are only allowed one guest due to COVID restrictions.)"There are 30,000 veterans currently living in the nation's capital, who have served their country in the U.S. military while having no voting representation in Congress," Norton's office said in a statement.