Washington, D.C. (March 22, 2021)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, held a hybrid hearing on H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, introduced by Committee Member Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton on January 4, 2021.
H.R. 51 would admit the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth into the Union and reduce the size of the federal district. The bill has 215 cosponsors and the Senate companion bill (S. 51) has 40 cosponsors. An identical version of H.R. 51 was passed by the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress.
The Committee heard testimony from The Honorable Muriel Bowser, Mayor of the District of Columbia; The Honorable Phil Mendelson, Chairman of the Council of the District of Columbia; Dr. Fitzroy Lee, Interim Chief Financial Officer of the District of Columbia; Mainon A. Schwartz, Legislative Attorney at the Congressional Research Service; Wade Henderson, Interim President and Chief Executive Officer of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Harry Wingo, a D.C. veteran; and Republican witness Zack Smith, Legal Fellow, Meese Center, Heritage Foundation.
Witnesses agreed that denying 712,000 tax-paying D.C. residents a voice in Congress is an affront to our nation’s democratic principles.
- In response to a question from Chairwoman Maloney, Wade Henderson testified that, “we are burdened by contradiction even as we attempt to bring democratic values to the rest of the world. We deny 700,000, over 700,000, citizens of our nation's capital, citizens of the country, the right to participate meaningfully in our national legislature and in our democratic debate while seeking to bring that same level of protection to the residents of Kabul, Afghanistan or Baghdad, Iraq. That is noble. However, that contradiction simply cannot stand.”
- Mayor Bowser testified that, “our quest for statehood has nothing to do with the current Congress. Our quest for statehood is longstanding, and it’s really rooted in our values and the values of both parties. We talk about fairness, democracy, and justice, but we also support the principles of liberty, freedom, and local autonomy. And that’s what H.R. 51 embodies for residents of the District of Columbia.”
Witnesses testified Washington, D.C. meets the three prerequisites Congress has generally considered in admission decisions—commitment to democracy, support for statehood, and the population and resources to support itself.
- In response to questions from Congressman Kweisi Mfume, Dr. Fitzroy Lee explained that in Washington, D.C., “three quarters of the revenue are generated locally,” the District has had a clean audit for 24 consecutive years, and that its pension funds are fully funded. Mayor Bowser also described Washington, D.C.’s finances as “healthy.”
- Mayor Bowser testified that, “the residents of the District of Columbia sent me here for one purpose: they have voted—eighty-six percent of our electorate says they want to be full Americans. They want to be full tax-paying Americans. …All we are asking you today is to correct an anomaly of our history.”
Witnesses testified that Congress has the constitutional authority to admit Washington, D.C. as a state and reduce the size of the federal district.
- Congressional Research Service Legislative Attorney Mainon Schwartz testified, in response to a question from Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, that the text of 23rd Amendment “does not expressly” describe the geographical or population size of the federal district.
- Ms. Schwartz also testified, in response to a question from Congresswoman Robin Kelly, that she has “not encountered anything in the bill that does not comply,” with the Equal Footing Doctrine. Mayor Bowser testified that the Equal Footing Doctrine “is exactly how we’d like to enter” the Union.