Donald Trump thinks D.C. people are “really special”—they even have “a great feeling”—but he won’t say whether they deserve equal representation and full voting rights as a recognized state.
During a 37-minute-long interview on Meet The Press Sunday morning that touched on Planned Parenthood, affirmative action, and international affairs, NBC host Chuck Todd posed Trump a series of questions on D.C. statehood that were sparked by a viewer-inquiry posted on Facebook. Without skipping a beat, Trump initially responded that he has “a conflict of interest” because of the $200 million hotel he’s building at the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue. He added that the project is “under budget and ahead of schedule”—apparently despite recent issues with the D.C. Council (over a controversial “Coming 2016” sign) and celebrity chefs, including José Andrés (over rent).
“I would like to do whatever’s good for the District of Columbia,” Trump eventually conceded. “I would say whatever’s best for [the people of D.C.], I’m for. I have a total conflict of interest.”
After Todd pressed him on that admission, Trump said he would “look at a number of things,” including D.C. statehood, that would make “everybody happy.” (City Desk contacted Trump’s campaign for further comment about the apparent conflict of interest as well as the office of D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. We will update this post if we hear back from either party.)
Though it’s unclear how building a fancy new hotel creates an ethical dilemma with supporting full voting equality for the District, Trump isn’t the only presidential candidate to have breached the statehood issue thus far. In July, Hillary Clinton reportedly told Norton that she “of course” supports D.C. statehood, while her main contender for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, has been co-sponsoring this year’s Senate version of the District statehood bill.
Trump’s comments come just a few weeks after comedian John Oliver brought D.C. statehood national attention on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, when he devoted a 17-minute segment to the issue.
On Twitter, users reacted to Trump’s Meet the Press interview with both surprise and sarcasm.
Did Trump just come out in support of DC Statehood?
— Nawaid Ladak (@ladakn99) August 16, 2015
So Trump doesn’t want to defund Planned Parenthood & (presumably) supports DC statehood. … But he’s great on The Mexicans?!? — Matt Lewis (@mattklewis) August 16, 2015
Trump asked about DC Statehood and his answer is I want what’s best for their people…how does he get away with these non-answers?
— JTTallman (@JTTallman) August 16, 2015
Trump on DC statehood: “I’m building a hotel there!” — purpleclaire (@purpleclaire) August 16, 2015
Trump on #DCStatehood – he is building a hotel here and has conflict of interest, but will act in best interests of DC residents – usual BS
— Yuriy L. Nemets, Esq (@ynemets) August 16, 2015
Watch the video and read the relevant part of the transcript below (D.C. remarks begin at 29:30):
Todd: Let me toss you a quick Facebook question. Michael Martinez asks, “Residents of the District of Columbia currently pay federal taxes, but have only a non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives, no representation in the Senate. Should that policy continue as is?” Should D.C. become a state? Should it not have to pay taxes? Should it be treated like Puerto Rico? How should D.C. residents be treated?
Trump: I have a conflict of interest because I’m building the greatest, you know, I’m building at the Old Post Office, I think, what will be maybe one of the great hotels of the world.
Todd: So I’ve heard.
Trump: It’ll open. By the way, unlike our government, we’re under budget and ahead of schedule. Isn’t that a nice thing to hear? You don’t hear that. Just like [a border-] wall, we’ll be under budget and ahead of schedule, and nobody’s getting through that wall. Believe me.
Todd: Alright. So the District…
Trump: But I have a little bit of a conflict of interest.
Todd: …state or not?
Trump: I would like to do whatever’s good for the District of Columbia, because I love the people. You know, it’s funny. I’ve really gotten to know the people, the representatives, and the mayor, and everybody. They’re really special people. They’re great. And they have a great feeling. So I would say whatever’s best for them, I’m for. I have a total conflict of interest.
Todd: So you’re okay with either way? If they want statehood, you’re for statehood?
Trump: I mean, people are talking about that. I’d look at it. I’d certainly look at it…
Todd: Or give them back to Maryland. Or do something.
Trump: I would look at a number of things. And something would be done that everybody would be happy.
Photo by Morgan Baskin