By Beatriz Pascual Macias
Washington, Mar 22 (efe-epa).- Municipal leaders in Washington DC on Monday intensified their historic fight to become the 51st US state, a move that would allow the District of Columbia’s 712,000 residents – more than either Vermont or Wyoming – to have a representative with the right to vote in Congress, a demand that has gained momentum after the assault on the Capitol.
It is a demand that is being insisted upon by city leaders to end the racial discrimination that goes with the fact that the US capital, with the overwhelming number of its residents being African American, has no vote in Congress.
The debate on statehood for DC on Monday moved to a hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Democrats have a majority in the House or Representatives and lawmakers there last summer passed the H.R.51 bill to make the capital the 51st state. The Republican-controlled Senate, however, refused to bring the bill to a vote in the upper house.
The person who drafted that proposal and DC’s only congressional representative, African American Eleanor Holmes Norton, began her testimony before the House committee by saying that this year is an historic one for DC’s statehood struggle.
Norton said that with Democrats controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, DC has never been closer to achieving its objective than now.
She went step by step through what is contained in the bill, which Democrats have promised to bring to a vote before this summer.
Firstly, the capital zone would be reduced to cover about five square kilometers (about 2 square miles), including the monuments on the National Mall and the federal government buildings such as the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court The rest of the territory currently within the District of Columbia, that is to say all the residential areas, would be transformed into the 51st state and be named “Washington, Douglass Commonwealth,” in honor of Frederick Douglass, one of the key leaders in the US abolitionist movement during the 19th century.
Secondly, if the bill becomes law, DC residents would then be represented by two senators and one congressperson, all of whom would have full voting rights in their respective chambers of Congress.
Capital Mayor Muriel Bowser, herself a Democratic African American, said at the hearing that DC’s African American residents are being treated as “second-class citizens” because they do not have voting representation in Congress.
Nevertheless, Republicans on the committee made clear their rejection of DC’s statehood drive, with Kentucky Congressman James Comer saying that the fight to make the District the 51st state is “a key part of the radical leftist agenda to reshape America.”
Republicans are not interested in changing the current status of DC, where 76 percent of the voters are registered Democrats.
But Bowser and other local leaders hope that the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol will serve as a tipping point to gain the support of more moderate conservative lawmakers and garner the 60 votes needed in the Senate to begin debate on the initiative.
Because of DC’s current status, during the deadly Capitol attack Bowser could not mobilize the National Guard and had to wait three hours while the Donald Trump administration deliberated on the matter until finally the defense secretary decided to act.
The mayor believes that the city’s lack of independence to act deprives it of indispensable resources to guarantee its residents’ safety.
Outside the committee, in anticipation of the hearing on Monday, the avenue leading to Congress was filled with US flags bearing 51 stars instead of 50.
Besides not having a vote in Congress, DC residents of DC pay more federal taxes per capita than 22 of the country’s 50 states, something that their leaders took pains to emphasize in their remarks on Monday.