A key House committee approved a bill to make the nation's capital the 51st state, sending it to the House floor for full approval. This is the first time since 1993 that a bill to make Washington, D.C., a state has been considered and approved in a committee.
The House Oversight Committee passed the bill over the objections of the Republican minority, which introduced amendments to impose restrictions on abortion and gun control on the proposed state. The bill has 220 co-sponsors, giving it the momentum to pass the majority-Democratic House.
"For such a historic achievement for the District of Columbia, the only message I can convey is gratitude," said Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting representative who represents the district.
The bill wouldknown as Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, in honor of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass who was born in neighboring Maryland. The new state would receive two senators and one House member.
Washington, D.C., is the country's twentieth-largest city. With over 700,000 residents, it has more people than two states, Wyoming and Vermont, and not much fewer than Alaska and North Dakota.
Citizens of D.C. pay taxes and serve in the military. However, they do not have full representation in Congress. Unlike other small states which have two senators and only one congressman, D.C. has no senators and only a delegate to the House of Representatives who cannot vote on final passage of any legislation.
And while D.C. has a mayor and a 13-member city council, Congress has the power to review and block any piece of legislation passed by the city government. The city budget must also be approved by Congress, leading to instances in which members of Congress have blocked the city from subsidizing abortions for low-income women and from legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana.
Stasha Rhodes, the spokesperson for 51 for 51, a campaign advocating for making D.C. a state, said in a statement that it was a "historic day."
"Today is an historic day. This is the closest we have come to realizing a 200-year-old goal of granting full representation to the residents of Washington, D.C.," Rhodes said.
51 for 51 advocates for eliminating the filibuster in the Senate, which allows senators block legislation. Even if the bill to make D.C. a state passes in the House, it is unlikely to get far in the majority-controlled Senate.
Granting D.C. full representation of a state — including two senators — could tip the balance of the Senate in a way that is unfavorable to Republicans. The district is solidly Democratic; 90% of voters supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. Some Republicans fear that making D.C. a state would just hand Democrats two new senators, a key advantage for a party in such a closely divided Senate.