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The setting was different, but the message was the same. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton was addressing a gathering of government officials at an event on public infrastructure on the west bank of the Anacostia River, and statehood was on her mind.
The longtime D.C. delegate to Congress was introducing Vice President Joe Biden, who attended the event to make the case for government investment in infrastructure projects. Norton reminded the crowd, “He was a senator from a small state, not much bigger than the District of Columbia.”
Biden leaned in from behind her, close enough for a peck on the cheek, and said, “You should be a state.”
Later on, as Biden took the microphone, he clarified, “I’m not making a statement for the administration. I’m making a statement for Joe Biden. And I think the president shares the same view.”
President Barack Obama has stated his support for D.C. statehood in fewer words, saying simply this summer, “I’m for it.” Biden has also previously indicated support for giving the District two senators, if not for outright statehood.
The officials gathered at the site where “Nannie,” a massive tunnel-boring machine, will dig a tunnel under the Anacostia River to Poplar Point as part of DC Water’s $2.6 billion Clean Rivers Project. Combined with additional tunnels from Poplar Point to the wastewater treatment facility at Blue Plains and from Bloomingdale to Nannie’s home by RFK Stadium, the eventual tunnel is expected to reduce the combined sewer overflow running into the Anacostia River by 98 percent.
Mayor Muriel Bowser, acknowledging that “we’ve faced a number of tough challenges” in the first two weeks of her mayoralty, appeared to relish the chance to speak before high-ranking federal officials. She made multiple references to putting aside “partisanship”—-a ubiquitous sentiment in national political speeches but one that makes less sense in the District, where no Republicans sit on the D.C. Council.
Biden, for his part, didn’t disappoint attendees expecting his trademark long-windedness, jokes, and generous use of the word “literally.” In a lengthy, off-the-cuff speech in the cold, he touched on his past experience as a county councilman, the need for infrastructure investments, the importance of creating jobs, and the details of the tunnel-boring machine, “literally the length of a football field.”
As a helicopter flew overhead, Biden quipped, “That’s John Boehner flying overhead! John wants to help.”
Photos by Aaron Wiener