The strictly party-line vote in the House was 216 to 208, with all Republicans rejecting the statehood bill, dubbed H.R. 51. The legislation has support from President Biden but faces long odds of passing in the 50-50 split Senate.
Debate over statehood got particularly heated on the House floor Thursday when New York Democrat Rep. Mondaire Jones accused certain Republicans of being against D.C. statehood because the district was not White enough in their minds to qualify for self-rule.
"I have had enough of my colleagues' racist insinuations that somehow that people of Washington, D.C., are incapable or even unworthy of our democracy," Jones said in a floor speech that drew a quick rebuke from Republicans. "One Senate Republican said that D.C. wouldn't be a 'well-rounded, working-class state.' I had no idea there were so many syllables in the word White."
D.C. is 46% Black and 46% White, according to 2019 Census estimates.
Jones continued: "One of my House Republican colleagues said that D.C. shouldn't be a state because the district doesn't have a landfill. My goodness, with all the racist trash my colleagues have brought to this debate, I can see why they're worried about having a place to put it."
Republicans immediately asked for Jones' words to be struck, and the freshman Democrat ultimately agreed to withdraw his statements.
Prior to that dustup on the floor, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., cheered the statehood passage as a "momentous day for American democracy." Democrats argued statehood was a matter of civil rights and a necessary step to right a historic injustice of taxing D.C. residents without affording them any representation in Congress.
"Statehood for the District of Columbia is about showing respect for our democracy," Pelosi said.
"It's well past the time to grant them the rights that they have been fighting for and that they deserve," she added.
Republicans, however, argued that because Washington, D.C.’s establishment is constitutionally based, any change to the district must come in the form of a constitutional amendment – not legislation from Congress. And the GOP panned statehood as a power grab by Democrats to expand the majority in the Senate by adding two more senators from a liberal enclave.
"Let's be clear what H.R. 51 is all about: It's about Democrats adding two new progressive U.S. senators to push a radical agenda championed by the Squad to reshape America into the socialist utopia they always talk about," said Rep. James Comer, R-Ky.
D.C. statehood already passed the House last June but it died in the GOP-led Senate. The chances of becoming law are better now with supportive Democrats in charge of both the Senate and White House, but the Senate remains the biggest challenge because of the legislative filibuster that requires 60 votes to advance legislation.
But many Democrats in the House, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., are demanding the Senate get rid of the filibuster so the statehood legislation could pass with a simple majority vote.
However, not all 50 Democrats in the Senate have embraced D.C. statehood.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., is leading the statehood charge in the upper chamber and his legislation has garnered 44 members of the Democratic caucus as co-sponsors. Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., are not yet on board.
Led by Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C.'s delegate in Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. officials have pushed hard for statehood. The license plates of D.C. residents are a protest to their status, reading: "End Taxation Without Representation."
Supporters organized simultaneous rallies in all eight wards throughout the district Thursday in advance of the vote, but those demonstrations were sparsely attended with about 10 people apiece showing up in two of the locations visited by Fox News cameras.
Holmes Norton said D.C. should be no different than the 37 others states that Congress admitted to the union without a constitutional amendment.
"Congress has both the moral obligation and the constitutional authority to pass H.R. 51," D.C.'s lone non-voting delegate said in advance of the vote. "This country was founded on the principles of no taxation without representation and consent of the governed. But D.C. residents are taxed without representation, and cannot consent to the laws under which they, as American citizens, must live."
But Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., argued statehood flies in the face of the Constitution, which established the federal district as a non-state seat of government.
"This is absolutely against what our Constitution and our Founders intended," Hice said.
D.C. has a population of more than 700,000 residents – greater than Wyoming and Vermont – but the residents don't have a voting member in the House and have no representation in the Senate. Nor does the district have control over its own local affairs. However, the District of Columbia pays more in federal taxes than 21 states and more per capita than any state, according to the 2019 IRS data book.
Under the plan, the 51st state would be called "Washington, Douglass Commonwealth," named for Frederick Douglass. The state would consist of 66 of the 68 square miles of the present-day federal district.
The two square miles around the White House, Capitol, Supreme Court and National Mall would be carved out into a reduced federal district controlled by Congress and named the "Capital."
D.C. would have full control over local affairs and full representation in Congress, which would amount to two senators and one representative in the House based on the current population.
Biden's White House Tuesday formally backed making Washington, D.C., the 51st state and urged Congress to pass the legislation to give Washingtonians "long overdue full representation."