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Congress held a hearing on D.C. statehood on Monday, and the chances of making the District the 51st state have never been greater. Perhaps because the odds are better now than ever before, the strategy to defeat statehood seems to be to throw something at the wall and see what sticks.
For D.C. residents, it is not so complicated. For decades, residents have been advocating for voting representation in Congress. As Wade Henderson simply put it, “if you don’t vote, you don’t count.” (Here are 51 reasons for D.C. statehood, if you need more reasons.)
The nearly four-hour long hearing featured a lot of pontificating. Here is an abbreviated list of the nonsensical arguments against D.C. statehood (and a few rebuttals):
- Rep. James Comer (R-KY): D.C.’s health care is partly paid for by the federal government. It’s true that the federal government finances a larger share of D.C.’s Medicaid program than it does for Vermont or Wyoming. “You have mentioned previously that D.C. has a state population higher than Vermont or Wyoming,” Comer told Mayor Muriel Bowser in what he likely assumed to be a gotcha moment. The thing is, the federal government pays a larger share of Kentucky’s Medicaid program than it does for D.C.
- Zack Smith of the Heritage Foundation who testified against statehood: D.C. has yard signs. “The framers also wanted to avoid one state having undue influence over the federal government. There’s no question that D.C. residents already impact the national debate. For the members here today, how many of you saw a D.C. statehood yard sign or bumper stickers or banners on your way to this hearing today? I certainly did,” Smith said. Of course he neglected to mention that lobbyists currently meet with federal lawmakers whom D.C. residents do not elect into office to influence D.C. laws that Congress has final say over.
- Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA): D.C. doesn’t have the amenities of other states. “D.C. would be the only state without an airport, without a car dealership, without a capital city, without a landfill,” said Hice. He later walked back part of his claim once he discovered that D.C. has at least one car dealership, saying “I apologize for being wrong—I have no idea where it is.”
- Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI): D.C. doesn’t have a mining sector. “I have a good friend and he talks about what it takes to build a good economy and he says we either have to manufacture it, we have to grow it, or mine it. Or you can milk it too but of course what he is saying is wealth is created by agriculture or natural minerals. And those are things that I think every state has to some degree.” Bowser noted that D.C. is investing in clean energy sources like solar and thus creating countless jobs. Grothman interrupted the mayor before she could finish her answer to his question and discuss the lucrative hospitality industry.
These types of arguments shouldn’t come as a surprise. At the last hearing, in September 2019, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) argued that his staffers would have to park in the new state if Congress passed H.R. 51. “A lot of Capitol Hill staff would be parking outside of the federal enclave. Doesn’t it seem like there would be some influence if the congressional staff had to appeal to the new state to park?” Massie said at the time. Republicans also suggested that D.C. shouldn’t be a state because of former Councilmember Jack Evans, who was in the middle of an ethics scandal he’s yet to pay for.
“They’re simply trying to gin up whatever arguments they can think of,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) during Monday’s hearing. “These are frivolous arguments.”
The arguments would be laughable if the rights of approximately 712,000 residents did not hang in the balance. Residents voiced their frustration in watching Bowser having to answer these questions and others like what the founding founders envisioned for her home city. “The repeated audacity to ask Mayor Bowser, a black woman, if the founders envisioned [D.C. statehood] when they couldn’t envision her a full person, a full citizen, or her sitting before congress testifying in this chamber as an argument to deny democracy is callous [and] unconscionable,” tweeted Eboni-Rose Thompson, the Ward 7 State Board of Education representative.
While seemingly nonsensical, these arguments are sometimes just coded appeals to racists. “The point I’m making is the electorate in Washington is very different from other electorates and as a result may make strange decisions,” said Grothman. His argument is not new. Last year, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) made a similar one against D.C. statehood, saying “Wyoming is a well rounded working-class state. A new state of Washington would not be.” If admitted into the union, D.C. would be the first state to have a plurality of Black residents. This fact is not lost on lawmakers.
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