People For the American Way

Coronavirus Magnifies the Need for D.C. Statehood

News and Analysis
Coronavirus Magnifies the Need for D.C. Statehood
Photo via Mayor Muriel Bowser, Twitter

The issue of D.C. statehood, which would give the more than 700,000 residents of our nation’s capital the same voting representation in Congress as residents of all 50 states, surfaced in the headlines this week, amid a chaotic and crowded news cycle dominated by the COVID 19 global pandemic.

In a typical instance of “saying the quiet part out loud,” Donald Trump told reporters during a May 4 Oval Office interview the real reason why Republicans currently in Congress are unanimous in their opposition to H.R. 51, a bill to grant statehood to the District of Columbia.

“D.C. will never be a state,” Trump said. “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.”

The District is overwhelmingly Democratic, and until recently, had a majority African American population, a fact that is not lost on those who oppose D.C. statehood. Washington, D.C. has never elected a Republican mayor, and currently has no voting representation in Congress, despite having a larger population than two states (Vermont and Wyoming) and contributing more in federal taxes per capita than any state in the country.

“That’ll never happen unless we have some very, very stupid Republicans around that I don’t think you do,” Trump went on to say.

Meanwhile, later in the week, People For the American Way joined our allies at D.C. Vote in a virtual town hall about the need for statehood and equal treatment for the district, particularly in the context of federal aid to the states for the Coronavirus response. Given that D.C. is not a state the district was given significantly less aid than was provided to states.

The virtual town hall featured Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is D.C.’s sole representative and doesn’t have voting authority, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, and appearances and questions from a number D.C. statehood advocates and partners, including PFAW Senior Director of Outreach and Public Engagement Diallo Brooks.

In addition to addressing Trump’s comments about D.C. statehood, the virtual town hall also covered a number of discrepancies faced by D.C. residents, which can be summed up in part by the slogan on D.C. license plates: “No Taxation Without Representation.”

H.R. 51, currently with 223 cosponsors in the House, provides for admission into the United States of the state of “Washington, Douglass Commonwealth,” which would cover most of the territory of the District of Columbia. If passed, the Commonwealth would be admitted to the Union on an equal footing with the other states.