House passes DC statehood bill, now it heads to Senate and faces uphill battle

This time the measure has the public support of the White House.

April 22, 2021, 6:26 PM

A bill for D.C. statehood passed the House on a vote of 216-208 and heads to the Senate, where it has 45 co-sponsors but an uphill battle for passage.

This is the second time the bill has passed -- the first time was in 2019. This time the measure has the public support of the White House Office of Management and Budget, which announced its support for statehood this week for the first time.

H.R. 51 would change the name of the city from the District of Columbia to "Washington, Douglass Commonwealth," in honor of Fredrick Douglass, and allow a portion of the city -- including the U.S. Capitol, Supreme Court, White House and Kennedy Center -- to remain in a federal district called the "Capital." That designated area would continue to be controlled by Congress, as mandated by the Constitution.

Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser holds an American flag with 51 stars during a press conference on Capitol Hill, June 16, 2020.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

During the debate, Republicans accused Democrats of trying to make a power grab and Democrats claimed disenfranchisement.

"D.C. residents have been petitioning for voting representation in Congress and local autonomy for 220 years," said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a third-generation Washingtonian and the bill's lead sponsor.

Norton, who was unable to vote due to D.C.'s non-state status, told her fellow lawmakers that "Congress has a choice. It can continue to exclude D.C. residents from the democratic process -- forcing them to watch from the sidelines as Congress votes on federal and D.C. laws -- and to treat them, in the words of Frederick Douglass, as aliens -- not citizens, but subjects -- or it can live up to our nation's founding principles."

Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton, joined from left by Sen. Tom Carper, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, speaks at a news conference ahead of the House vote on H.R. 51- the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, on Capitol Hill, April 21, 2021.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Republican Rep. James Comer said that D.C. statehood, "is about Democrats adding two new progressive U.S. senators to push a radical agenda, championed by the Squad, to reshape America into the socialist utopia."

The vote on D.C. statehood came over 100 days after the Jan. 6 deadly assault that left five people dead. Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted the Capitol "would have had protection much sooner," if the city were a state. The D.C. National Guard, which assisted the city, had to wait more than three hours for approval to assist in protecting the Capitol.

Pelosi added, "the governor of any one of our states has the authority to call in the National Guard. That is not an authority that is afforded to the mayor of Washington, D.C."

In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware and he has lobbied fellow members, increasing the number of co-sponsors from 38 to 45.

"Today is certainly a day for celebration, but tomorrow, the work continues to ensure we hold a hearing on S. 51 and continue to build the support in the Senate needed to make D.C. statehood a reality," Carper said in a statement Thursday. "It's past time we correct this historic injustice and give the residents of D.C. the full representation they deserve."

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser asked, "the 55 senators who have not yet signed on in support of D.C. statehood to fulfill their responsibility to build a more perfect union and seize this important opportunity to right a 220-year-old wrong."

Some Democrats fear that Republicans will block the measure's chances in the Senate using a filibuster, which gives power to a single senator to object to legislation or a nomination. To overcome any objection there needs to be 60 votes -- and it's tough to find that many in the evenly divided Senate.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed, earlier this month, that he would not support changes to the Senate filibuster rule.

Despite Manchin's objections, Norton told ABC News Senior National Correspondent Terry Moran that she thinks the filibuster will not be around for much longer.

"I am predicting here that the filibuster is on his last legs -- not because of D.C. statehood, but because the Senate doesn't get anything done because of the filibuster," she said on ABC News Live.

She said that the end of the filibuster will be the start of D.C.'s statehood.

"When it goes for everything else, it will go for D.C. statehood as well and we will become the 51st state of the union."