The question of Washington, D.C.’s statehood is a straightforward party-line vote. Democrats support it because it would (likely) vote blue, providing them an extra congressional stronghold. Republicans oppose it for, well, the same exact reason. But neither side can make these arguments too explicitly. Even though everyone knows why they’re voting how they’re voting, they have to provide some reasoning beyond “it’s good for us and bad for them.”
For Democrats, the arguments are simple. Washington, D.C., America’s 20th most populous city and seat of its federal government, has zero federal representation. D.C. residents still pay federal taxes, though. The logic is equal representation and the right to self-government—one of the main reasons the United States even exists in the first place.
The Republican arguments are a little murkier.
During a press conference Tuesday, South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace said that D.C. “wouldn’t even qualify as a singular congressional district,” presumably based on population. But virtually everyone on political Twitter pointed out that Rep. Liz Cheney was standing behind Mace as she spoke. Cheney hails from Wyoming, where the entire state’s population totals less than 60,000. Washington D.C.’s population is well over 700,000.
Liz Cheney (R-WY, on Mace’s left in photo) https://t.co/IPXiuAUr52
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) April 21, 2021
Okay, so the population argument is bunk. What about political compromise and tradition? Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer raised those issues during a video he recorded after voting against D.C. statehood in the House on Thursday. He says the more interesting arguments are political, that Democrats are doing this because they “can’t get their way.”
Today I voted against making the District of Columbia the 51st state with the 101st and 102nd senators. Dems are pushing this now bc they are frustrated that they cannot pass partisan bills without dusting off an arcane parliamentary process called “compromise.” (1/2) pic.twitter.com/ygs9uPNdcI
— Rep. Peter Meijer (@RepMeijer) April 22, 2021
Meijer goes on to say that the American legislative process is purposely slow and deliberative to encourage “debate and dialogue and incremental change.” That’s true, but it simply ignores our currently reality. What exactly has Congress been debating or compromising over in recent years? And how exactly would adding two senators change that immobile, partisan process? Virtually every single piece of major social legislation falls along party lines. The idea that not making D.C. a state would instantly turn Congress into a more deliberative, thoughtful, bipartisan body is ludicrous.
But Mace and Meijer are just representatives making bad, easily refutable political arguments. Politicians are practically bred to argue in bad faith. Maybe you want a serious academic type to provide some reasons why D.C. shouldn’t be a state. Enter Washington Post columnist George Will, who says making D.C. a state is unconstitutional. The Constitutional framers, he argues, “mandated creation of the seat of a federal government” to be used strictly for the purposes of writing legislation and building some nice monuments. This is a flawless argument, because we know the Constitutional framers definitely never got anything wrong. And they certainly didn’t fail to consider or predict political realities 200 years in the future. Let’s move on.
Will also mimics Meijer’s argument about Dems playing their political advantage. (To be fair, it’s more likely that Meijer got it from Will than the other way around). He argues that the last time Democrats held a Senate majority in 2009, they didn’t push for D.C. statehood. Will writes, “[d]oes anyone believe that if D.C. were as incorrigibly Republican as it is Democratic, Democrats would favor D.C. statehood, which would mean two more Republican senators until the last trumpet shall sound?” The answer to that is a big fat “who cares”—of course Democrats are doing this because it’s politically expedient. Making this argument is akin to saying Republicans definitely wouldn’t have tried the same exact thing if it benefitted them (spoiler alert: they totally would have).
If, like Will, you’re of the mind that Democrats “devotion to constitutional propriety” ended with Joe Biden’s inauguration, there’s not much further to go. Might as well saddle up and call them all traitors. There’s nothing inherently wrong with making the political expedience argument—in fact, it’s probably the best one Republicans have. They also know it’s completely disingenuous and forces them to ignore what their own party did with majorities in both houses of Congress. That’s nothing new, of course—couching bullshit in constitutionality is standard practice. But it hits about as hard as saying things shouldn’t change because they’ve always been done this way. They’d be better off saying that adding an extra star would desecrate the American flag or that 50 is a beautiful, round, sacred number that can’t be changed. Those arguments would make roughly the same amount of sense.