US House of Representatives votes to make Washington DC a state

26 June 2020, 21:20

The House of Representatives voted to transform Washington DC into a state
The House of Representatives voted to transform Washington DC into a state. Picture: Getty
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The US House of Representatives has voted to make Washington DC the nation's 51st state.

In a historic move by the Democrat-controlled chamber, state representatives voted by a majority of 232-180 to transform America's capital into a state.

The legislation is likely to be met with fierce opposition in the Republican-led Senate - the upper chamber of Congress - but it is nonetheless a significant and symbolic moment following years of attempts to fully enfranchise the people of DC.

Approval would see the capital's 700,000 residents granted full voting representation - one House member and two senators - but as things stand, they cannot vote anyone into Congress.

Residents of Washington DC have long called for voting representation in Congress due to the fact they pay federal taxes, with some number plates in the city displaying the slogan "End taxation without representation".

If given the green light, a smaller area encompassing the White House, the US Capitol, and other federal buildings and monuments would remain under federal oversight.

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The state would also face a prospective rebranding; the DC, which currently stands for District of Columbia, would be renamed Douglass Commonwealth, honouring the African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Friday's vote is the first time Congress has advanced a measure to declare the city a state.

However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has said he did not intend to allow the bill to be voted on in the Senate.

President Donald Trump has also promised to veto the legislation.

Washington’s longtime non-voting House delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced the bill and she noted that DC’s population is larger than that of Wyoming or Vermont, plus the district pays more federal taxes than 22 states.

“As we approach July 4th, it is long past time to apply the nation’s oldest slogan, ‘no taxation without representation,’ and the principle of consent of the governed to District of Columbia residents,” Ms Norton said.

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But Republicans have often expressed their reluctance at making a heavily Democratic city gain two seats in the Senate.

Mr Trump told the New York Post in May: "DC will never be a state."

He added: "You mean District of Columbia, a state? Why? So we can have two more Democratic — Democrat senators and five more congressmen?

"No thank you. That’ll never happen."

Despite the president's comments, Washington DC would only have one congressman, rather than five.

With almost half of the capital's residents being black (47 per cent), some Democratic lawmakers see the Republicans' refusal to budge on the issue as a veiled form of discrimination.

Speaking on the House floor on Friday, California Representative Maxine Waters, a Democrat, said “race underlies every argument against DC statehood” and called a continued lack of representation an “injustice.”

Only one Democrat, Minnesota's Collin Peterson, voted against the measure, along with 178 Republicans.

Opponents have argued that Washington DC could instead be absorbed by neighbouring state Maryland.