WASHINGTON – The Democratic-controlled House approved a bill Friday to make the District of Columbia the 51st state, saying Congress has both the moral obligation and constitutional authority to ensure that the city's 700,000 residents are allowed full voting rights, no longer subject to “taxation without representation.''
Lawmakers approved the bill, 232-180, largely along party lines, marking the first time a chamber of Congress has passed a D.C. statehood bill. Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson was the sole Democrat to oppose the bill. No Republican voted for it.
The legislation now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it faces insurmountable opposition from GOP leaders.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district's non-voting representative in Congress, sponsored the bill, saying it has both the facts and Constitution on its side.
D.C.'s population is larger than those of Wyoming and Vermont, and the new state would be one of seven with populations under one million, she said. The city's $15.5 billion annual budget is larger than those of 12 states, and D.C.'s triple-A bond rating is higher than those of 35 states, Norton said.
Opponents, mostly Republicans, called the bill a power grab for the firmly Democratic city, and said the nation's founding fathers intended the capital to be separate from the other states.
“This is about power. Make no mistake about it,'' said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas. The bill would “fundamentally alter what D.C is,'' he added.
The bill would create a new state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, in honor of the Virginia-born first president and Frederick Douglass, the Maryland-born abolitionist and former slave.
The bill also would reduce the size of the federal district to a tourist-friendly area that includes the White House, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, federal monuments and the federal executive, legislative and judicial office buildings adjacent to the National Mall and the Capitol. Congress would retain control of that 2-square-mile area.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser invoked Douglass as she hailed the “historic vote” bringing the city closer than ever to becoming the 51st state. “More than 160 years ago, Washingtonian Frederick Douglass told us: Power concedes nothing without a demand,'' Bowser said.
All District laws are subject to review by a congressional committee, which can veto them or alter them by attaching riders to federal appropriations bills. During GOP control of Congress, conservatives have sought, mostly unsuccessfully, to restrict some of the city's liberal initiatives such as needle exchanges for drug users and abortions under its Medicaid program.