House Democrats on Thursday held the first hearing in 26 years to consider making the District the 51st state, but the new proposal raised eyebrows from some who were troubled that the state lines would cut up Pennsylvania Avenue, moving the president’s eponymous hotel from federal to state authority.
The statehood measure, which enjoys support from 220 lawmakers, all Democrats, could pass the House, but experts say it’s going nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The debate over making the District a state broke down along party lines in Thursday’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, with Democrats arguing that residents in the nation’s capital should be able to have the same voting rights as citizens in Virginia and Maryland.
“We have no voice. We have no one to call to speak for us, yet we pay more in taxes per capita than any state, yet we pay more taxes than 22 states. This Congress has the constitutional authority, the full conditional power to correct this problem of our democracy,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, told the lawmakers.
Republicans argued that the Founding Fathers intended the federal government to belong to the entire nation and not fall within the territory of a single state. The concern at that time was that the state surrounding the seat of the federal government would exercise undue influence over the nation’s leaders.
“This new state would have incredible power over the other states,” said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the committee’s top Republican.
He made the point that the proposed lines separating the new state from a smaller federal enclave would place the federally owned being leased to the Trump Organization and operating as the Trump International Hotel under the state’s authority.
“It’s literally because you wanted the money. You wanted the revenue,” Mr. Jordan said to the D.C. officials testifying before the panel.
Democrats argued that Mr. Trump’s hotel should not get special treatment, noting that the Hotel Monaco also is on federal land and would be within the proposed state’s lines.
“It’s amazing to me that the political rights of 700,000 people might be conditioned on the business rights of one man,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, Maryland Democrat.
The two sides battled over whether the proposed State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, could be added to the union via legislation or by a constitutional amendment.
But most on both sides of the aisle acknowledged it’s unlikely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, would take up the bill after it clears the House.
There’s some confusion over whether President Trump would get on board. In 2015, then-candidate Trump backed statehood for the District. But in a 2016 interview with The Washington Post editorial board, the president walked that back.
“I don’t see statehood for D.C.,” Mr. Trump reportedly said.
The city does have a delegate in the House — Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat — who can participate in committee business but cannot vote on bills and resolutions.
She introduced the bill being debated Thursday in the first congressional hearing on D.C. statehood since 1993.
The District was created by Congress in 1791, when Maryland and Virginia donated land picked by George Washington. Yet until the seat of government moved from Philadelphia to the District in 1801, residents continued to vote in elections in those states.
Once Congress claimed jurisdiction in 1801, those rights ceased.
It was thought that if residents needed to raise issues with Congress, they could walk to the Capitol to do so, said Jane Levey, chief historian at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
But Ms. Levey said that arguments a new state would have undue influence compared to others runs afoul of modern-day communication.
“Being closer to Congress physically has no meaning whatsoever,” she told The Washington Times.
Congress has relinquished some of its control in recent decades.
The District gained three votes in the Electoral College in 1964 and held its first modern elections for city council and mayor in 1974.
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