The question has been long asked: What would happen if Washington D.C. became the 51st state?
But it could come closer to an answer as the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held its first hearing Thursday on the H.R. 51, bill to give statehood to the District of Columbia.
According to Congress.gov, “This bill provides for admission into the United States of the state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, composed of most of the territory of the District of Columbia. The commonwealth shall be admitted to the Union on an equal footing with the other states.” The name is the proposed designation for the potential state, named for abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Hearings on H.R. 51 are the result of increasing support from both House Democrats, and every Democratic presidential candidate, according to USA Today. Thursday morning’s debate about the bill is the first House hearing on statehood since 1993.
House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer previously announced in an op-ed in The Washington Post his plans to co-sponsor a bill with the District’s single non-voting member of Congress, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, to make the nation’s capital the 51st state. “Congress now has an opportunity to live up to the Constitution’s goals,” Norton said.
The bill also has the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who noted her support of the statehood push in a tweet.
“Washington D.C. residents deserve an equal voice in our government – they deserve statehood now,” she wrote.
So how would the bill work?
Washington, Douglass Commonwealth would be represented by two senators and one representative, according to the bill. All of D.C.’s current land would be included in the territory, except for federal buildings like the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court and others. Also taxes would not be imposed on federal property except under the permission of Congress.
U.S. Census Bureau data show that of Washington’s 702,000 residents, about 46 percent are African American. It peaked at 71 percent in 1970, dropped below 50 percent after 2010 and has been declining ever since.
But most of the city’s residents support statehood. A total of 80 percent voted for it during a 2016 referendum.
Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez noted in a statement in a House hearing that keeping statehood from D.C. residents is akin to continued disenfranchisement. “It is a profound injustice and a thick irony of our history that the people who fled here to the District of Columbia to [freedom from slavery] because of the enlightenment of this community are now disenfranchised,” she said.
Statehood for the district has been opposed by Republicans in the past, mainly because nearly 80 percent of registered voters in the district are Democratic.
When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared on Fox News in June, he noted the advantage Democrats would have in the Senate, as a D.C. statehood would allow them to expand the Supreme Court.
“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, and as a former Supreme Court clerk yourself, you’ve surely noticed that they plan to expand the Supreme Court,” he said to host Laura Ingraham.
President Trump is no fan of the upgrade for the District, either telling the Post in March 2016 that “I don’t see statehood for D.C.”