Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said Friday he does not support a bill to make Washington, D.C. the 51st state, likely dooming the measure's chances in the Senate. Manchin argued that D.C. statehood should be addressed with a constitutional amendment.
"If Congress wants to make D.C. a state, it should propose a constitutional amendment," Manchin said in an interview with the West Virginia MetroNews radio network. "It should propose a constitutional amendment and let the people of America vote."
The House, H.R. 51, along party lines last month to create the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, named after Frederick Douglass. It would give D.C. two U.S. senators and a voting representative in the House, like every other state. The bill would also cordon off the White House, U.S. Capitol and National Mall to remain under federal control as the seat of the U.S. government.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where Democrats hold a 50-seat majority. Most legislation in the Senate requires 60 votes to advance, and the bill was already unlikely to garner support from 10 Republicans — meaning chances of it passing were slim even before Manchin voiced his opposition.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has committed to bringing the measure to the floor for a vote, but a motion to move forward with the legislation would almost certainly fail.
Manchin referenced the 23rd Amendment, which provided D.C. residents with representation in the Electoral College but did not give them voting representatives in Congress. He argued that passing a statehood bill would not withstand judicial scrutiny, and said "you know it's going to go to the Supreme Court."
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district's non-voting representative in the House, pushed back against Manchin in a statement on Friday without naming him directly. She argued that the 23rd Amendment would not need to be repealed in order for D.C. statehood to be granted, saying "those who make such an assertion are conflating a policy choice and a constitutional requirement." Manchin did not explicitly call for repealing the 23rd Amendment.
"No new state was admitted by constitutional amendment. All 37 new states were admitted by Congress, and there has never been a successful constitutional challenge to the admission of a state. The Constitution commits admission decisions solely to Congress," Norton said.
An amendment to make D.C. a state would not come to an election with the American people. The proposed amendment would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress, and then ratified by legislatures in 38 states.
A spokesperson for Senator Tom Carper, the bill's lead sponsor in the Senate, said that the senator believes "the stars are aligning to right this historic injustice."
"The Constitution — including the 23rd Amendment — does nothing to prohibit the granting of statehood to the District of Columbia, nor does it establish a minimum state size or the location of the federal district. The Constitution does, however, lay out the process by which states are admitted to the Union — and D.C. is now taking those same steps that 37 other states have taken since 1791," the spokesperson said in a statement.
For the bill's advocates, D.C. statehood is a civil rights issue. The district has a population of more than 700,000 people, larger than the population of Wyoming or Vermont. But while those two states each have two senators and a representative in the House, D.C. has no voting representation in Congress.
Statehood advocates also point out that D.C. pays more in federal taxes than 21 states and more per capita than any state, according to 2019 IRS data. The district is also diverse, with a population that is 46% Black and majority nonwhite. If admitted, it would be the first state with a plurality Black population.
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