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John Oliver Takes on D.C. Statehood

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In Stephen Colbert’s absence, it appears another late-night host has taken up the mantle for D.C. statehood.  

Colbert brought attention to the District of Columbia’s lack of voting rights during his tenure at Comedy Central, before leaving the network in December for CBS. And now another host with roots on the network’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” has dedicated airtime to the District’s political status. John Oliver, the host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” delved into the issue in a 17-minute segment Sunday night. Oliver’s show has featured lengthy segments on voting rights of U.S. territories including Guam and Puerto Rico, and he turned his attention on D.C., which he said “suffers a lack of representation.”  

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., made a few cameos in the segment: in a clip explaining her lack of a vote on the House floor and in a 2007 C-SPAN clip of her emphatically refusing to yield to a colleague, which drew applause from the studio audience and a “That is fantastic,” comment from Oliver.  

Oliver also addressed the typical congressional tactic for affecting D.C. social policy: attaching riders to the District’s appropriations bill. This year, the House attached a familiar host of riders, including a new provision targeting an anti-discrimiantion law , which Republicans argue violates religious freedom.  

“Given that D.C. is a fairly liberal and diverse city, and Congress is frequently neither of these things, over the years Congress has repeatedly stepped in whenever D.C. is about to do something that they might disapprove of,” Oliver explained.  

The in-depth segment also featured a number of members of Congress, including former Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Bob Barr, R-Ga. Oliver also chided current Republicans who argued against District autonomy, featuring clips of Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah who serves as chairman of the committee with jurisdiction over D.C., and Florida’s John Mica.  

D.C. residents and activists took to social media Sunday night to voice their approval of Oliver’s segment, which has more than 100,000 views on YouTube. The advocacy group DC Vote tweeted “Help us keep up the @LastWeekTonight momentum and continue bringing national attention to the fight for #DCEquality!” and linked the group’s fundraising page.  

For statehood proponents, one of the main challenges in garnering support for the cause is a lack of understanding of the District’s unique political status. So a popular late-night host explaining the debate  and updating the 50-state song  was likely music to their ears.  


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