Republican senators on Wednesday urged a floor vote on District of Columbia statehood, saying they wanted their Democratic colleagues on record for their stance on a cause that has polled unfavorably.
Statehood legislation has virtually no chance of advancing out of a Republican-controlled Senate after it passed the House for the first time in history.
But Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) held a news conference to denounce statehood as a power grab by Democrats to reshape the Senate and to call on Democratic incumbents and candidates to go on record with their position on the issue.
“This is not about enfranchising people,” Graham said of Democrats’ goal. “This is about expanding the Senate map to accommodate the most radical agenda that I have ever seen.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) previously has said he will not bring the legislation to a vote. His spokesman declined to comment on the calls from Republican senators to hold a vote.
Several Democratic senators have scheduled a virtual hearing on D.C. statehood Wednesday afternoon.
All but six senators in the Democratic caucus have co-sponsored statehood legislation: Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island; Doug Jones of Alabama; Angus King (I-Maine); Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona; and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
President Donald Trump also opposes D.C. statehood, citing the likelihood of the deep-blue city electing two Democratic senators.
At the Wednesday news conference, the Republican senators painted a caricature of the District as a monolithic bubble of reporters, bureaucrats and lobbyists — 70% of the workforce is in the private sector.
“You get outside the Beltway and the craziness here of Washington, D.C., the American people agree with us,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), citing a Gallup poll that showed nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose D.C. statehood. “Sometimes I think it’s important for senators and congressmen, in fact, most of the time, get out of this city and go out to where the real people are at across the country and ask them what they think.”
At a Wednesday afternoon Senate Democratic hearing on statehood, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) denounced Daines’s comments as “dehumanizing” and said it was “disgraceful” to suggest that D.C. residents are not real people.
Graham invoked his fellow senator from South Carolina, Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the chamber, to push back on criticism that Republicans did not want a plurality black city to pick new senators.
“It has nothing to do with race; it’s all to do about power,” said Graham.
Cotton doubled down Wednesday on his criticism of D.C.
“The main thing it contributes to our national economy is influence peddling, regulations and — no offense — tweeting by reporters,” Cotton said at the news conference.
Opponents of statehood say it goes against the vision of the Founding Fathers to have the seat of federal government free of state influence. They have suggested retrocession of the residential part of the city to Maryland to address the issue of congressional representation for D.C. residents, who pay more in federal taxes than nearly half of states.
The strategy for D.C. statehood involves the support of Congress and the president, modeled on Tennessee’s entry into the union in 1796. It would preserve a limited area including the White House, U.S. Capitol and the National Mall as the nation’s capital while the rest of the city would become a state.
D.C. officials acknowledged that Joe Biden would need to defeat Trump and that Democrats would need to take control of the Senate for statehood to become politically feasible.
An advocacy group, 51 for 51, has been pushing for Democrats to commit to changing Senate rules to allow statehood legislation to pass on a simple majority vote without the threat of the filibuster, which effectively requires 60 votes to pass significant bills.