This week, the House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 51, a bill admitting Washington, D.C. as the 51st state. This bill is flatly unconstitutional and would be tied up in the court system for years, creating confusion until its inevitable defeat. Given its unique constitutional status, the federal city of Washington, D.C., can only become a state upon ratification of a constitutional amendment.
This is not the first time D.C. has tried to become a state. In 1960, the Democrat-controlled House rejected statehood for the district. They instead settled on the 23rd Amendment, granting it votes in the Electoral College — which is now the principal constitutional obstacle for statehood. Congress rejected statehood again in 1993, with current Majority Leader Steny Hoyer voting no. Last year, the House passed a bill granting D.C. statehood, but that measure was also unconstitutional. Wisely, the Senate never considered it.
The factors mitigating against past statehood attempts have not changed. Due to the 23rd Amendment, they have only become more complex. If Congress granted D.C. statehood and the 23rd Amendment were not repealed, the downsized federal district would still have three Electoral College votes. Congress could then grant these votes in whatever manner it saw fit: perhaps to the First Family, who would likely be the only residents in the federal district, which would give them the same amount of say in the presidential election as the state of Vermont; directly assign them to the presidential candidate who aligns with whatever party controls Congress; or simply not assign them at all, in direct violation of the 23rd Amendment and creating a constitutional crisis.
Robert F. Kennedy labeled these possibilities “an absurdity,” and it is why every Justice Department for the past 60 years has come to the conclusion a constitutional amendment is needed in order for D.C. to become a state.
Democrats know the 23rd Amendment is a problem because they attempt to address it in H.R. 51. But absent a constitutional amendment, any language regarding the amendment is both meaningless and disingenuous.
Equally disingenuous is the rationale currently being pushed by Democrats for statehood.
For years, Democrats clamored only for additional voting rights. Progress on this front has been led by Republicans. President Eisenhower led the charge for the 23rd Amendment, and his efforts were spearheaded in the House by Prescott Bush. President Nixon signed the District of Columbia Delegate Act of 1970 and the Home Rule Act into law, substantially increasing voting rights for D.C. residents. In the late 1990s, the Republican-led Congress intervened and saved the district from financial and social ruin. Paul Ryan and Mike Pence also voted to enhance D.C. voting rights.
Several options exist to expand voting representation for D.C. residents today, but Democrats are only interested in pursuing an unconstitutional bill to grant statehood for two reasons: power and money. Statehood provides D.C. with two progressive senators to enable Democrats to end the filibuster and resuscitate unwanted radical policies such as enacting the Green New Deal, packing the Supreme Court, and defunding the police.
As my Democrat colleague, Jamie Raskin, recently said, “[T]here’s a national political logic for [D.C. statehood], too, because the Senate has become the principal obstacle to social progress across a whole range of issues.” This is why national progressive organizations have joined the fight for D.C. statehood — not on behalf of D.C. residents, but for political gain.
At the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s hearing on H.R. 51 last month, Mayor Muriel Bowser ever-so-slightly altered the city’s rationale for statehood. She said the city wants “complete control over local affairs” — an idea the Founders explicitly rejected. If granted statehood, the new state would likely impose a commuter tax on Virginia and Maryland residents who work in the city. With the commuter tax, commuters would be paying for services and policies they have no role in shaping — the same argument proponents of statehood have been making for years.
Taxing non-resident income would add $55 billion to the district’s income tax base and would double all individual income taxes collected in the city. This money would not only represent higher taxes for those who work in the city, but it would come at the expense of the state budgets of Virginia and Maryland. The district would also be able to tax exempt properties such as hospitals, universities, and non-profit entities.
D.C. statehood is a perfect issue for national progressives and local leaders to rally around, but they are not being honest about what they actually want. H.R. 51 is all about consolidating Democrats’ power in Washington to ensure more government intrusion in Americans’ daily lives. H.R. 51 is unconstitutional and the wrong approach, and Congress must reject this bill.