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House approves measure to make Washington, D.C. a state

The House approved a measure to make Washington, D.C. the fifty-first state on Friday, marking the first time a D.C. statehood proposal has passed in either chamber of Congress, though it will not get a vote in the Senate. The legislation passed 232 to 180, with only one Democrat joining Republicans to vote against it.

The legislation, titled H.R. 51, would create the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, named after Frederick Douglass. The district has a population of over 700,000 people, larger than the populations of Wyoming and Vermont. D.C. residents have no voting representation in Congress. Eleanor Holmes Norton represents D.C. in Congress as a non-voting delegate.

"The United States is the only democratic country that denies both voting rights in the national legislature and local autonomy to the residents of the nation's capital," Norton said in a speech on the House floor ahead of the vote. Norton also spoke about the importance of the vote in personal terms.

"My great-grandfather Richard Holmes, who escaped as a slave from a Virginia plantation, made it as far as D.C., a walk to freedom but not to equal citizenship. For three generations my family has been denied the rights other Americans take for granted," Norton said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not bring the legislation to the Senate floor. Republicans have expressed opposition to Washington, D.C. statehood, largely because the city is strongly Democratic. 

Republican Senator Tom Cotton argued in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday that Wyoming may be smaller, but it is a "well-rounded working-class state." 

Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat, retorted in a tweet that D.C. residents shouldn't be deprived of representation "just because Tom Cotton doesn't think they have the right jobs."

"Would you trust Mayor Bowser to keep Washington safe if she were given the powers of a governor? Would you trust Marion Barry?" Cotton said, referring to the current mayor and late former mayor, both of whom are black.

However, President Trump has also criticized the idea of D.C. statehood, and the White House has threatened to veto the legislation.

"D.C. will never be a state," Mr. Trump told the New York Post in May. "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."

Liberal groups praised the vote as a strike for racial justice and said it was "long past time to make D.C. statehood a reality." People for the American Way president Ben Jealous said in a statement that "D.C. statehood is a racial equity issue for everyone — not just the people who live there.  At the global level, denying full citizenship to D.C.'s largely black and brown population sends an appalling message to the world.  At the national level, it perpetuates entrenched power in Congress that too often stymies real progress on racial equity."

Activists have called for eliminating the filibuster in the Senate in order to push D.C. statehood through, since that would remove the 60-vote threshold and allow the Senate to approve the measure with only 51 votes.  

The vote on D.C. statehood was the first House floor vote on the issue since 1993.

Kimberly Brown contributed to this report.

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