Is DC statehood a chess piece in a broader Democratic political game?

The father of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Tommy D’Alesandro Jr., served as mayor of Baltimore.

But, to hear his daughter tell it, he was also “mayor” of Washington, D.C.

When Rep. Tommy D’Alesandro, D-Md., served in Congress, the nation’s capital lacked “home rule.” Congress served as a sort of super city council over Washington, D.C. Congress even set up key committees devoted to overseeing Washington, D.C. D’Alesandro chaired the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the District of Columbia. Pelosi says her father “did not like” that he was often referred to as the Washington, D.C., “mayor,” just because he controlled the purse strings.


Now Pelosi, and many other Democrats, are pushing for the District of Columbia to become the 51st state.

“Statehood for D.C. is in my DNA,” bragged Pelosi. 

At a press conference on D.C. statehood, Pelosi even brought a photograph of her father with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt when she testified about the city’s plight before D’Alesandro’s panel in February, 1940. That hearing marked the first time a first lady ever testified before Congress.

The House passed a bill last week to morph the District of Columbia into Washington, Douglass Commonwealth. Douglass, as in Frederick Douglass, the famed famed abolitionist who lived in the city.

But Republicans view the D.C. statehood bill as a nefarious, Democratic, political gambit.

You’ve heard of pack the courts? For the GOP, this is pack the Congress. Republicans accuse Democrats of pushing statehood to cushion their congressional majorities.

“This is nothing more than an unconstitutional power grab by Democrats to gain two ultra-progressive D.C. Senate seats and force radical far left policies on the American people,” charged Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa.


Republicans asserted that Washington, D.C., lacks all sorts of chops to become a state.

Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., said the city has “minimal manufacturing, agriculture and natural resources.”

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., said the city is too small, observing that the new state would be “one-eighteenth the size of Rhode Island.”

“It was not set up to be a state,” argued Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas. Roy said the Founders always intended the seat of American government to reside in a separate, federal enclave. Placing the capital in its own, unique, political subdivision would prevent a “host” state from wielding extra political influence.

Democrats weren’t buying it.

“Everyone knew that Hawaii and Alaska could not be admitted because they were not contiguous. Everyone knew Texas couldn’t be admitted because it was a separate republic and there was no authority to admit a republic to the union. It was said that Utah couldn’t be admitted because they were practicing polygamy there,” countered Jamie Raskin, D-Md.


Republicans view blocking D.C. statehood as essential to hindering what they perceive as a left-leaning agenda.

“This is a part of the progressive pathway to reshape America into a socialist utopia that the squad talks about,” declared Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the top GOPer on the House Oversight Committee. That’s why Republicans view the D.C. statehood bill as a chess piece in a broader, Democratic political game.

“It’s a pure power grab to give two Democrat senators to the District of Columbia,” alleged Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the leading Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

Democrats say they just want fairness for D.C.

“They don’t see taxation without representation,” said Raskin about the city’s citizens who pay federal taxes without a vote in Congress. “All they see is two, new, liberal, Democrat senators.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., concedes an additional two Democratic senators would likely come to the Senate from Frederick Douglass Commonwealth. But that may not be the case forever. 

“When Alaska and Hawaii were admitted not too far apart,” said Hoyer, “Alaska was perceived to be a Democratic state and Hawaii was perceived to be a Republican state.”

The politics of Alaska and Hawaii flipped over time, with Alaska now leaning more Republican and Hawaii long trending toward Democrats.

But two more senators from D.C. could tilt the political playing field toward Democrats. Some Democrats contend GOP opposition to statehood for the mostly Black city is steeped in code.

“One Senate Republican said that D.C. wouldn’t be a, quote, ‘well-rounded, working-class state.’ I had no idea there were so many syllables in the word White,” said Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., during House debate on the measure.

At a House hearing on the bill a few weeks ago, Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., incorrectly cited the city’s lack of a landfill as a statehood deficiency.

Jones didn’t let that pass, either.

“With all the racist trash my colleagues have brought to this debate, I can see why they’re worried about having a place to put it,” said Jones.

Jones’ language drew the ire of his Republican colleagues. The GOP tried to have the House sanction the New York Democrat for breaching floor decorum. They aimed to strike Jones’ remarks from the record. The House could have suspended Jones from speaking on the floor for the remainder of the day. But after a brief protest, Jones withdrew the offending remarks.

“On every topic, (Democrats) go to race,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “And if you oppose whatever radical agenda they’re trying to push, they call you a racist.”

The D.C. statehood bill sailed through the House, 216-208 on a party line vote. The House passed a similar bill for D.C. less than a year ago. But Democrats contend things are different this time around.

“First of all, we have a president of the United States who says he wants to sign this bill,” said Hoyer. “Secondly, we have a majority leader of the United States Senate who says he wants to see this bill passed. So, we’re not in the same position we were last year.”

Or are they?

It’s unclear if this bill can score 51 votes to pass the Senate. But the legislation faces a familiar nemesis: the Senate filibuster. That’s the bigger issue. Sixty votes are necessary to terminate a filibuster. 


That’s why some Democrats are intensifying efforts to unwind the filibuster. House-passed bills important to progressives are starting to stack up in the Senate – just like they did when Republicans controlled the body. Legislation on guns. Police reform. Voting rights. And soon, D.C. statehood.

This where the D.C. statehood bill fits into the Democrats macro, political strategy.

Democrats could use the probable death of the D.C. bill in the Senate as a reason to revamp the filibuster.

“We need to make the filibuster an issue that is too hot to handle,” said House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif.


When pressed by Fox about the future of the filibuster, Pelosi steered clear.

“I don’t get involved in any discussion on Senate rules,” said Pelosi. “And I don’t welcome any discussion from (the Senate) on House rules.”

But she doesn’t have to. Plenty of liberal Democrats are willing to take up the mantle about the filibuster, sometimes framing the debate around race.

“We’re leading a letter with Democrats in the House to our dear Democratic colleagues in the Senate so they can feel the urgency in their hearts and so they can feel our support at their backs to do what is right to eliminate the Jim Crow filibuster,” said Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo.

Tommy D’Alesandro didn’t like presiding as “mayor” of Washington, D.C., because he believed it undercut those who reside there. And his daughter, even though she’s speaker of the House, has no interest in meddling in Senate affairs.

But if D.C. is going to become a state, the only way to get there is to dismantle the filibuster. And if that’s the case, a vote on D.C. statehood could prove to be a lot more than just a vote on D.C. statehood.