In a year when the House will spend much of its attention on must-pass bills, the promise by Democratic leaders of a vote on statehood for the District of Columbia emphasizes its importance, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer on Wednesday stressed the need for a vote “this year” on Norton’s statehood bill, citing President Donald Trump’s “threats to impose his dangerous and callous will” on Washington. Norton’s measure would make most of the area comprising the District the 51st state.
Norton said the current conflict between District officials and the federal government over the military presence in Washington wouldn’t have happened in places like Maryland or Virginia where the governor has authority over the state’s National Guard.
“For 219 years this city has not been equal to the states,” Norton said in an interview with CQ Roll Call. “So whatever else happens with respect to the virus and police reform, this is even more important history because it goes to the way in which our republic is formed.”
The tense relationship between Trump and District leaders like Mayor Muriel Bowser escalated this week, as they went back and forth over how to handle protests over the police killings of George Floyd and others. The demonstrations have come as the country continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic, and some worry the mass gatherings could exacerbate the rates of infection.
Bowser condemned Trump’s decision to call in the District of Columbia National Guard and guardsmen from several other states without her sign-off.
She warned in a tweet Thursday that until the District got statehood, “we are subject to whims of the Federal Government. Sometimes they’re benevolent, and sometimes they’re not. We have to fix this.”
That got a rebuke from several Republicans, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee.
“Just heard that Mayor Bowser is kicking the Utah National Guard out of all DC hotels tomorrow. More than 1200 troops from 10 states are being evicted,” he tweeted late Thursday evening. “This is unacceptable.”
Earlier in the week, on Monday, Trump had declared himself the “law and order” president as Lafayette Square in front of the White House was cleared by police officers and the military with force to make way for the president to walk to St. John’s Church where he posed for photographs.
Trump has praised the federal response to the protests across the country, while criticizing Bowser and her handling of the unrest in the city.
Ramping up the rhetoric Friday, Bowser made a decision to rename a portion of Sixteenth Street Northwest in front of St. John’s “Black Lives Matter Plaza” and painted the street with the words Black Lives Matter. The street provides a direct route to the White House.
Norton’s statehood bill, originally numbered HR 51, was approved on Feb. 11 by the House Oversight and Reform Committee on a party-line, 21-16 vote.
Hoyer said the House vote — which even if it passes is expected to go nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate — is an important step to giving Washington residents the same protections as citizens in the states.
Norton said that without statehood, the District would not get an equal say, and that point has been loudly amplified this week.
“We already have full home rule, and you can see that this president looked like he wanted to take over the District of Columbia anyway,” she said.