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Congressional Lawmakers Take Another Step To Make D.C. A State

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For years, Washington, D.C., has pushed to become a state. And yesterday, the district took a big step towards that goal. The House voted to approve statehood, although with no Republican support. D.C.'s only representative in Congress, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, has led the efforts, but she wasn't able to vote for the measure herself because she has no vote in Congress because D.C. is not a state.

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ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: D.C. residents are taxed without representation and cannot consent to the laws under which they, as American citizens, must live.

MARTIN: President Biden supports statehood, but it is an uphill battle for D.C. in the Senate.

WAMU host and reporter Rachel Kurzius has been following this story and joins us now. Good morning, Rachel.

RACHEL KURZIUS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So it says taxation without representation on the license plates here in Washington, D.C. It's fairly self-explanatory, but explain the ramifications here.

KURZIUS: Seven-hundred-and-twelve thousand people live in D.C. And, like you mentioned, they lack full representation. They don't have a full vote in the House of Representatives, and they don't have any representation in the Senate, which means that they don't have a vote on Supreme Court justices, Cabinet positions or really any measure that goes through the Senate.

And so the lack of representation on Capitol Hill is pretty easy to understand, but there's another element to the way that D.C. doesn't have full control over their government, which is that other members of Congress - who D.C. residents don't vote for - have veto power over the laws passed by the D.C. Council. And they can add amendments to bills that uniquely affect D.C., especially through spending. One way this has worked out, for example, is D.C. residents have strongly approved of a measure to make recreational marijuana legal in the city, but they are not allowed to use their own locally raised funds in order to create a tax-and-regulate system. And that's just one example of how D.C. doesn't have full control over their own policies.

MARTIN: So what does this vote mean? The House has now signed off. But I mean, is it just a doomed effort in the Senate?

KURZIUS: This time when it heads to the Senate, it faces better odds than last June when it first passed the House and then was absolutely dead on arrival in the Senate. Now, at least, it has a Senate majority leader in Chuck Schumer who supports the measure. But it still faces long odds, especially without filibuster reform. The filibuster requires 60 votes for measures to pass, and the bill has zero Republican support. In addition to that, not all 50 Democrats have signed on. So certainly, there are hurdles for this statehood measure in the upper chamber.

MARTIN: Can you explain the resistance on the part of Republicans to D.C. statehood?

KURZIUS: Sure. D.C., the population is plurality Black. Ninety percent of the people who live in D.C. vote for Democrats. And so if you hear Democrats, they say Republicans just don't want this population of people to have a vote. They think that it's going to be a Democratic power grab with two additional foregone conclusion votes in the Senate for Democrats. Democrats say that's not true. Let's talk about the actual disenfranchisement of these 700,000 people. And Republicans are also saying this isn't what the Founding Fathers would want. And they have some really out-there arguments as well - that D.C. doesn't have mining or landfills, and that's why it's not worthy of being a state. Of course, those actually aren't requirements to become a state.

MARTIN: What's the alternative? Do Republicans have another plan to grant D.C.'s residents the same voting rights as other Americans?

KURZIUS: They think about retrocession to Maryland - that D.C. could become a part of Maryland. But D.C. or Maryland, neither of them want that plan.

MARTIN: Rachel Kurzius of member station WAMU. Thank you for this.

KURZIUS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.