As DC Pushes for Statehood, Question of Balance of Power in Senate Arises


Caroline Owen

In late April, the House of Representatives voted affirmatively to grant statehood to the District of Columbia. The 216-208 vote, divided near-exactly along party lines, illustrates just how ideologically American politicians are divided on this issue.


The proposed bill, named H.R. 51 (for the House of Representatives’ initials and the possible 51st state) has received significant criticism from Republican politicians, who state that the bill is being pushed as an effort to give greater influence to the Democratic Party in the Senate. Representative James Comer (R) of Kentucky stated that “[H.R. 51] is about Democrats adding two new progressive US Senators to push a radical agenda championed by the Squad to reshape America into the socialist utopia they always talk about… [the bill] is not about voting representation…. it’s about Democrats consolidating their power in Washington.” 


From a factual standpoint, this is correct: if DC is made a state, the balance of power in the Senate will be disrupted. Currently, the second chamber of Congress is composed of 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and two Independents (who both reliably vote with Democrats). DC is one of the most liberal regions in the country (in the 2020 Presidential Election, Biden won the District with 94.46% of the popular vote), and its two senators will without doubt vote blue. Additionally, the District will also gain representatives in the House, which is already controlled by a Democratic majority.


Republicans also argued that turning DC into a state would rob it of the ‘special benefits’ it enjoys as being the Federal District of the United States and that it should remain as such as was outlined in the Constitution.


Democrats, however, claim the opposite – that DC’s current federal status is unconstitutional as tax paying residents of the District are being illegally denied representation in government by not having voting representation in Congress.  This is true – the roughly 68-square-mile region does not have Senators, but a sole member in the House of Representatives. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has served as DC’s Representative since 1991, cannot vote in the House; however, she can speak on behalf of the District’s residents during committee deliberation.


Representative Carolyn Maloney (D) of New York’s 12th congressional district (which includes parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens) was one of the many proponents of adding a 51st state to the union, claiming that “the real power grab is denying 712,000 taxpaying American citizens the right to vote. This isn’t about politics. It’s a fundamental voting and Civil Rights issue.” She stated that it was the duty of Congress to uphold the “most fundamental principle [of the American government]… that all people have the right to full and equal representation in their government.”


DC statehood bills have been introduced to Congress twice before; however, both were struck down due to a Republican majority in the House in 1993 and the Senate in 2020. H.R. 51 still needs to be formally debated in the Senate and passed with a minimum of 60 votes in favor to be legally implemented. Nonetheless, House Democrats are hopeful that their efforts will be successful, and their support of the introduction of DC to the Union is undoubtedly a historic moment in recent American history.