The House Oversight Committee on Tuesday sent the full chamber a proposal to grant statehood to Washington, DC, marking a historic step in a decades-long battle to transform the federal district into the nation’s 51st state.
The Democratic-led committee approved H.R. 5803 by a vote of 21-16. Of the 24 Democrats on the panel, all but one had cosponsored a version of the bill introduced last year. Its passage comes after a nearly 8-hour debate on the measure in which Democratic members killed more than a dozen Republican-supported amendments.
The legislation, titled the “Washington, D.C. Admission Act,” was first introduced in January 2019 by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s nonvoting House member. It would make DC a state and would provide its residents with two senators and at least one voting House member. The state would comprise all of the land currently in DC, excluding the land on which all existing federal buildings and monuments in DC sit.
The bill is expected to be passed by the Democratic-controlled House, where its supporters include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. A version of the bill introduced by Norton last year garnered more than 200 cosponsors. But its prospects remain dim in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“Congress has two choices: It can continue to exercise undemocratic authority over the 700,000 American citizens who live in the nation’s capital, treating them, in the words of Frederick Douglass, as ‘aliens, not citizens, but subjects,’ or it can live up to the nation’s promise and ideals, end taxation without representation and pass the Washington DC admissions act,” Norton said at the start of Tuesday’s mark-up meeting.
The panel’s passage of the bill represents the first congressional committee vote on DC statehood since 1993, when lawmakers considered a previous bill on the issue that was introduced by Norton, according to her office. Residents of DC have long called for statehood, arguing that they lack full representation because they don’t have a voting House member or senators, and Norton has advocated for statehood throughout her nearly 30 years in Congress.
“For such a historic achievement for the District of Columbia, the only message I can convey is gratitude,” she said in a statement following the vote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office on Tuesday declined CNN’s request for comment on the measure, citing his previous statements on it. During a Fox News interview last year, the Kentucky Republican said the idea, along with a number of other progressive proposals in the House, wouldn’t “go anywhere” as long as he controls the chamber.
The legislation would need to be approved by the full House and Senate before it goes to President Donald Trump for his signature or veto.
On Tuesday, Democrats on the committee sparred with their Republican counterparts as various GOP-backed amendments were debated and defeated during the meeting.
One such amendment, which would have placed the FBI headquarters and the Old Post Office building, a federally owned property on Pennsylvania Avenue that currently holds the Trump International Hotel, in the potential federal enclave and not the new state touched off a tense exchange between the lawmakers.
“I think that this is ridiculous that we’re not allowing them to keep those things that are revenue builders for the state, that will allow them to have the kind of income that they need to sustain the people of the District of Columbia when it is a state. This is ludicrous,” said Rep. Stacey Plaskett, a Democrat from the Virgin Islands.
Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican who proposed the amendment, argued that including the Old Post Office in the state is “a jab at Donald Trump, but also (a) recognition of his success at converting that building into a revenue generator.”
Democrats, he said, “have gerrymandered this new federal enclave, and I’m saying un-gerrymander it.”
The committee’s approval of the bill was celebrated by DC Vote, a local group that “fights for full and equal representation for DC residents through DC Statehood.”
“It’s a historic day and we’re excited to clear this hurdle and head to the floor,” said Bo Shuff, the executive director of the group, adding that it’s “monumental for the people of DC.”
CNN’s Abigail Clukey contributed to this report.