WASHINGTON — House Democrats are poised to again pass a bill to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state. But they won't get any help from Utah Republicans in Congress who see it as nothing more than a power grab.
Though the margin might be slimmer this time, the House is expected to pass the Washington, D.C., Admission Act for the second time in two years.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s delegate in the House who can propose legislation but not vote on it, said proponents will make the case that Congress has the constitutional authority to admit the state of Washington, D.C., and that it would meet all of the traditional elements lawmakers have considered in admission decisions.
For the 220 years since the District of Columbia became the nation's capital, residents have always had all of the obligations of citizenship, including paying full federal taxes and serving in the armed forces, but have been excluded from much of American democracy, she said.
"The citizens who live in our nation's capital have never had voting representation on the floor of either chamber of Congress, and Congress has always had the final say on their local affairs. This is uniquely un-American, and it is undemocratic," Norton said.
The bill would give residents full representation in Congress, while maintaining a federal district that would continue to serve as the nation's seat of government.
Utah GOP Rep. Chris Stewart said the push to make D.C. a state has nothing to do with whether the people of the District have fair representation.
The citizens who live in our nation's capital have never had voting representation on the floor of either chamber of Congress, and Congress has always had the final say on their local affairs. This is uniquely un-American, and it is undemocratic.
–Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton
Democrats, he said, wouldn't back the bill if D.C. were a reliably Republican area. D.C. residents voted 92% Democratic in the last presidential election.
"This is about politics," he said on KSL Newsradio. "This is about getting two solid Democratic members of the Senate. That allows them to pack the Supreme Court, allows them to break the filibuster, allows the Green New Deal, allows a whole bunch of incredibly progressive even radical legislation, and that's what they're trying to achieve by this."
Making D.C. a state would impact Utah in that it would make conservative principles espoused in the state harder to implement at the federal level, he said.
D.C. residents chose to live there knowing they were living under "slightly different government accommodation, and they've known that for 200 years," Stewart said.
Making Washington, D.C., a state is unconstitutional and not what the Founding Fathers intended, he said. It needs to remain autonomous and free from the influence of states and the federal government, he said.
In 1788, the District of Columbia contained 100 square miles that were carved out of Virginia and Maryland. Thirty-one of those square miles were returned to Virginia in 1846, leaving the 69 that once had been part of Maryland.
The District's 712,000 residents have no vote in Congress, but they do elect their own city council, mayor and school board.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, does not favor D.C. statehood but suggested a compromise that would make the District part of a contiguous state and able to vote with that state.
"My own view is that we should maintain the system we have and not try and pack the Senate, like the Democrats are trying to pack the Supreme Court," he told reporters Tuesday. "But if there were a desire to provide greater representation for the people of D.C., combining D.C. with Maryland, from which the land was originally taken, would make more sense."
Unequivocally, this is about adding additional Democratic senators to the U.S. Senate. If people try to dress it up as anything other than that, I strongly disagree with them.
–Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah
Even if Norton's bill gets through the House, it would face obstacles in the Senate where it needs 60 votes to pass, meaning 10 Republicans would have to cross party lines.
"Unequivocally, this about adding additional Democratic senators to the U.S. Senate," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, recently told the far-right cable channel One America News. "If people try to dress it up as anything other than that, I strongly disagree with them."
Lee said he understands residents' arguments about representation but that the solution isn't creating another state. He said there could be a state of Washington, D.C., and a federal city that includes the Capitol, Supreme Court and White House.
"I believe that there is a way to make it constitutional but it's still a horrible idea," he said.
If it's decided that D.C. doesn't need to be the nation's capital city and an independent district, the solution is to give it back to Maryland, Lee said.
The Biden administration came out in support of Norton's legislation Tuesday.
The Office of Management and Budget in a statement of administration policy called for Congress to "provide for a swift and orderly transition to statehood for the people of Washington, D.C."
"This taxation without representation and denial of self-governance is an affront to the democratic values on which our nation was founded," according to the statement.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last month that President Joe Biden "believes they deserve representation, that's why he supports D.C. statehood."