Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema is a shameful excuse for a Democrat. Her adamant refusal to take even the most basic procedural step to defend the right to vote should mean that as President of Emily’s List recommended, She “[finds] she stands alone in the next election.” The same goes for West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who should not be forgiven for not supporting a filibuster workaround that would see passage of legislation against extreme manipulation, voter suppression and other attempts to overthrow the will of the people.
Still, it’s important to remember that the “manchinema” mess is just the latest manifestation of the structural inequality that is derailing legislative initiatives in the current Congress and could cost Democrats control of future Congresses. There have always been Democrats who abandon their party’s platform and principles to pursue personal gain or twisted ideological agendas. Indeed, some of the more virulent opposition to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 got by Segregationist Democrats.
What makes Sinema and Manchin so important today is that the Senate is split 50-50 and only a dissident Democrat can upset the president’s and the party’s best plans. If the Democrats had two more senators, they wouldn’t have to worry: they could lose a vote or two and still muster a majority — directly or, if necessary, with the help of Vice President Kamala Harris. But as long as the filibuster rule stands, a minority of senators, representing a minority of Americans, will be able to legislate on measures on voting rights, worker rights, police reform, initiatives to address the climate crisis, and other big proposals like Build Back Better Legislation .
So how can the Senate become more representative? By making the District of Columbia a state.
“Today we’re talking about the filibuster, but consider this: We wouldn’t even be in this situation if Washington, DC had two senators — the two senators we deserve,” Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser explained in a Martin Luther King Day speech to suffrage activists.
DC statehood is first and foremost a moral imperative. As Bowser said, “We cannot talk about voting rights without talking about the disenfranchisement of 700,000 taxpaying citizens – a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow America.” No US citizen should be denied full representation in the federal legislature. This includes the multiracial, multiethnic population of nearly 700,000 Americans living in DC, almost 80 percent of whom supported a statehood referendum in 2016.
DC statehood must also be understood as a practical political imperative for the Democrats, who represent the vast majority of Americans – the current Senate is made up of 50 Democrats 41,549,808 other Americans than the 50 Republicans – who, however, have to fight for the government because of their narrow majority.
A failure to make DC statehood a priority when Democrats had broader majorities in previous conventions has come back to haunt the party now. It’s something today’s Democrats must acknowledge as they reflect on their sorry circumstances, having fought and not getting the votes needed to overthrow the filibuster and protect free and fair elections.
The House of Representatives co-approved DC statehood in April 2021 a 216-208 party line vote Approval of House delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton Washington, DC Licensing Act. “This convention, with Democrats controlling the House, Senate and White House, is within reach for the first time in DC history,” said Norton, an organizer of the 1963 convention March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom who has long described the pursuit of statehood as a struggle for human rights.
Unfortunately, as with so many initiatives promoting economic, social and racial justice that have passed the House of Representatives this Congress, statehood legislation faces a rough ride in the Senate. And yes, Manchin is a roadblock. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Thomas Carper, a Delaware Democrat close to President Biden, has strongly advocated and attracted the measure 45 co-founders of the Senate. But the West Virginian is not one of them.
Manchin has said that instead of making DC a state by a simple Senate majority, supporters should be encouraged to make the change with a constitutional amendment. Manchin’s reasoning is cynical and wrong; New states have historically been admitted by Congressional approval rather than by constitutional amendments.
Error has never stopped Manchin, however, and its obstruction is a serious barrier. But this is about more than Manchin. This is about clarity on the part of Democrats when it comes to the structural issues they have all too often neglected over the years.
Democrats must recognize that obstructionists will continue to be a threat until they put issues of democratic infrastructure at the heart of their mission. Beyond DC statehood, the party, which has twice won and then lost the popular election for president in recent years, should also be concerned with abolishing the electoral college. But that really requires a constitutional amendment — or, failing that, a cumbersome one National Referendum Interstate Compact that would seek “to guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.”
Despite what Manchin says, DC statehood simply requires majority votes in the House and Senate. Against this background, securing majorities for statehood should be a priority. Democratic challengers to incumbent Republicans in the 2022 midterm elections and Democrats running in open races for seats in the House and Senate should be urged to take clear and unequivocal positions on the issue. The same goes for Republicans like Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who hope to build a coalition that includes Democratic crossover votes and liberal independents to win in 2022.
If DC statehood cannot be achieved in the 117th Congress, then surely that should be task one in the 118th Congress – and in every session of Congress until it is achieved.
Yes, the cynical Republican will disagree, repeating Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson’s assertion that DC statehood “just a naked power grab.” But as usual, Johnson and his bipartisan allies get the calculus dead wrong. Opponents of government by, by, and for the people seized power long ago when they created a Senate in which a minority of members represent the will of the vast majority of Americans as expressed in presidential and congressional elections puts it, could thwart. DC statehood, like statehood for other US territories that aspire to it, simply tips the balance back toward democracy—for Washington and for the United States as a whole.