In a historic moment, shortly after Democrats held a hearing Tuesday on Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton's bill to grant statehood to Washington, D.C., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi became the 218th voting member to endorse statehood, meaning a majority of the House now backs the idea. House Democrats will therefore likely approve D.C. statehood for the first time ever in a chamber of Congress.
Notably, almost no other democratic country disenfranchises its own capital. D.C.'s population of almost 700,000 is already larger than Vermont’s and Wyoming’s, and the city is projected to reach 1 million residents in the coming decades. Most critically, the U.S. Senate gives white voters vastly outsized political power relative to voters of color, so admitting D.C., with its predominantly black population, would help mitigate the chamber's considerable racial bias.
While some opponents argue that the Constitution creates obstacles to statehood, reformers have proposed a simple solution, which D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved a 2016 referendum. This proposal, which the ACLU has concluded passes constitutional muster, would shrink the federal district down to a core of important government buildings surrounding the National Mall and White House and admit the bulk of D.C. as a new state.
Republicans have so far unanimously opposed statehood, but if Democrats regain the Senate and win the presidency in 2020, they could then admit the new state of Washington, D.C., with just simple majorities by eliminating the filibuster, since the admission of new states is treated just like ordinary legislation. However, only 35 of 47 Democrats are co-sponsoring the Senate's companion bill, so getting the remaining dozen on board will be critical for ending D.C.'s unjust disenfranchisement.