House approves bill that would admit Washington, D.C., as 51st state

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U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. (Photo: Robert Lyle Bolton / CC BY 2.0)

WASHINGTON (CBS News) — The House voted Thursday on a bill that would admit Washington, D.C., as the 51st state, although the measure is likely to fail in the evenly divided Senate. The legislation passed along party lines with a vote of 216 to 208, with no Republicans voting in favor.

For the bill’s advocates, D.C. statehood is a civil rights issue. The district has a population of more than 700,000 people, larger than the population of Wyoming or Vermont. But while those two states each have two senators and a representative in the House, D.C. has no voting representation in Congress. Eleanor Holmes Norton represents D.C. in Congress as a non-voting delegate.

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Statehood advocates also point out that D.C. pays more in federal taxes than 21 states and more per capita than any state, according to 2019 IRS data. The district is also diverse, with a population that is 46% Black and majority nonwhite. If admitted, it would be the first state with a plurality Black population.

The legislation, titled H.R. 51, would create the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, named after Frederick Douglass. It would give D.C. two U.S. senators and a voting representative in the House, like every other state. The bill would also cordon off the White House, U.S. Capitol and National Mall to remain under federal control as the seat of the U.S. government.

The House approved a D.C. statehood measure by a vote of 232 to 180 last year, but it did not get a vote in the Senate, which was then controlled by Republicans. Although Democrats now hold a 50-seat majority, most legislation requires 60 votes to advance, and this bill is unlikely to garner support from 10 Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has committed to bringing the measure to the floor for a vote, but a motion to move forward with the legislation would almost certainly fail.

“Today’s victory was historic, both for D.C. residents and for the cause of D.C. statehood,” Norton said in a statement after the bill was passed, noting that this is only the second time statehood had received a vote on the House floor.