DC statehood: would a Biden victory make it possible?

The decades-long push to make Washington DC the 51st state is closer to reality than ever before

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

As the US prepares for one of the most anticipated presidential elections in recent history, many residents in one particular area are hoping to use the opportunity to accomplish something that’s long been talked about, but never acted on – the push to give Washington DC statehood.

In 1790, Washington DC was chosen to be the US capital as a compromise between the northern and southern states. At the time, it was not thought of as a place where hundreds of thousands of people would live, but simply a location that would be the home of US federal government.

Fast forward to 2020, however, and DC has grown both in population and sheer economic power. It’s now home to approximately 702,000, giving it a larger population than several states, including Vermont and Wyoming.

But as many proponents for DC statehood have pointed out, those 702,000 residents do not have a voting representative in the US congress.

“Times have changed. DC is now a large metropolitan city, and back in 1961 the 23rd Amendment was passed which gave DC three electoral votes to the presidency,” said Dr Peter Yacobucci, a political science professor at Buffalo State University.

“It’s become an anachronism and to some extent an embarrassment that you have hundreds of thousands of people that don’t have congressional voting rights,” Mr Yacobucci added.

Small protests calling for DC to be recognised as a state are a frequent occurrence in the city, where license plates read “Taxation without representation.” The campaign started in the 1950s but gained momentum in the 80s and remains a widespread demand in DC today.

But its success is contingent on Democrats retaining control of the House of Representatives, taking control of the currently GOP-led senate, and winning the White House in the upcoming election.

A Biden win, could secure the backing DC statehood supporters need. Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden has gone on record saying he supports the movement.

“Absolutely, I have for the last 28 years,” Mr Biden said when asked by a supporter of the DC statehood movement whether he would endorse the move.

There is some reason for optimism among those who are pushing to give Washington DC statehood. Back in June, for the first time ever, the US House of Representatives voted to establish DC as the 51st state.

That vote, however, was largely moot as Republicans, who currently control the Senate, have long stood in opposition to the campaign.

As a strongly liberal-leaning city, DC would almost certainly give the Democratic Party more power in congress if it were granted statehood.

“They want to pack the Supreme Court with liberals intent on eroding our constitutional rights and they want to codify all this by making the swamp itself, Washington DC, America’s 51st state with two more liberal senators,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during his primetime address at the Republican National Convention back in August.

Technically, Washington DC residents have a non-voting congressional representative, Democratic Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has long pushed for DC statehood.

Ms Norton didn’t mince words when addressing Republican-led efforts against DC statehood, recently criticising Republican congressional representatives who sought to blunt the impact of such a move by trying to limit the composition of the Senate, and even possibly fold DC into Maryland.

Read More

Opinion: What the battle for the US Supreme Court is really about

“These bills demonstrate Republican fear of the momentum our DC statehood bill is rapidly achieving,” Ms Norton said at the beginning of October. The House passed our DC statehood bill by an overwhelming majority (232-180) that included even members who won seats by only a few points to give Democrats the majority – members from red states.”

With the Democratic-led House of Representatives passing a bill that would give DC statehood, the move to make DC the 51st state appears to be a "distinct possibility" if Mr Biden is elected, Professor Yacobucci said.

“It’s growing in economic strength and political strength," he said, pointing to the city's increasing population and influence. "You have all these people in this area who still are not represented by congress.”

Any momentum the DC statehood movement might have, however, could easily be swept away by a Donald Trump re-election victory on November 3rd. Mr Trump has told media outlets on multiple occasions that DC “would never” become a state, and implied that Republicans would be “stupid” to approve such a move.

It's yet another piece of the 2020 campaign puzzle that makes this election so unique, and at the same time so significant, with an outcome that could re-shape the map of the United States.