U.S. Senate holds first hearing on D.C. statehood since 1993

Mayor Vincent Gray testified on Capitol Hill on Monday, calling for D.C. statehood. Samuel Klein | Senior Photo Editor
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. and Mayor Vincent Gray testified on Capitol Hill on Monday, calling for D.C. statehood. Samuel Klein | Senior Photo Editor
Updated: Sept. 16, 2014 at 4:04 p.m.

The long battle for D.C. statehood made progress Monday, though the historic moment was touched by some cynicism.

The U.S. Senate held its first hearing in more than 20 years on D.C. statehood on Monday. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson testified at the hearing, led by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who advocated for D.C  to become the nation’s 51st state.

Here are four key takeaways from the hearing.

1. “Not just a collection of government offices, monuments and museums”

Carper, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is sponsoring the bill that proposes D.C. become a state called New Columbia. He praised the vitality of D.C., and said the hearing was a way to “restart an old conversation.”

“This may not be the last chapter, but it attempts to right a wrong that should have been righted by now,” he said.

Carper argued that D.C., with more than 650,000 residents, should have representatives in Congress with the power to vote.

2. “No chance of success”

Coburn, the only other senator at the hearing, was more pessimistic of D.C.’s chances.

“Here we are again debating this issue, even though it has no chance of success,” he said.

Coburn pointed to past presidencies, such as Ronald Reagan’s administration, which found that several legal challenges would come with granting D.C. statehood.

3. D.C. is an “anomaly”

Norton, D.C.’s non-voting representative in Congress, was the first witness to speak during the panel, and argued that only statehood would allow her to fully represent the city’s residents.

She pointed to moments when she said she “felt” D.C. needed statehood, including when veterans from the District came home from Afghanistan and Iraq. She said they had fought for the democratic voting rights of citizens there, but they “came home without the same rights.”

“I feel it when the bell rings and I cannot vote on behalf of the residents,” she said.

4. Gray: “We were casualties of national politics.”

Gray spoke about the problems he saw with Congressional oversight of D.C. government. He cited the federal government shutdown last October, which prompted Gray to declare all D.C. government employees “essential.”

Gray added that under the New Columbia Admission Act, Congress would not have control over the District’s budget.

“We’re asking for the same treatment that all Americans get,” he said.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the federal government shutdown last year forced D.C. agencies to close. The city actually used reserve funds during the shutdown to keep agencies running. We regret this error.

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