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The House has approved a bill to make Washington, D.C., a state. Here’s what that would mean

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (right), accompanied by US House of Representatives Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, spoke at a news conference on District of Columbia statehood.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (right), accompanied by US House of Representatives Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, spoke at a news conference on District of Columbia statehood.Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

The House of Representatives on Friday approved a bill that would make Washington, D.C., the nation’s 51st state. Though it’s likely to fail in the Senate, the legislation’s passage in the House represents a major step forward for the D.C. statehood movement.

The full House hadn’t previously voted on the issue since 1993, when a bill to make the district a state failed by a large margin. Here are some answers to questions about D.C. statehood.

What specifically would the House bill do?

The bill would essentially shrink the existing District of Columbia dramatically to a small area that includes most federal buildings and monuments, including the White House, the US Capitol Building, the US Supreme Court Building, and the federal executive, legislative, and judicial office buildings located adjacent to the National Mall and in the Capitol complex. The remainder of the city would become a state called Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, keeping the DC abbreviation but naming it for Frederick Douglass, the fugitive slave who became a leading Black voice for abolition and civil rights.

Statehood also would mean Congress would lose the authority to review all laws passed by local D.C. government.

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Would residents have voting representation in Congress?

Yes, the residents of the newly created Washington, Douglass Commonwealth would have the same rights as citizens in any other state, including the right to elect representatives in Congress. The bill calls for the mayor of D.C. to set an election for one US House Representative and two US Senators.

Currently, District residents have no voting power in Congress. They can elect a delegate to represent their interests in the US House who can speak on the House floor and even serve in committees, but the delegate cannot cast any votes. That’s why D.C. license plates bear the Revolutionary War-inspired slogan “end taxation without representation.”

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What about presidential elections?

For residents of D.C., nothing would change. The 23rd Amendment to the Constitution already grants D.C. residents voting power in presidential elections and three Electoral College votes. But statehood would render that amendment moot, and the bill includes a provision to kick-start the repeal of the amendment.

What would happen to the American flag?

The United States flag would get another star. Last fall, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser lined a parade route with US flags featuring 51 stars as part of a rally to promote the D.C. statehood bill in Congress. Here’s what it would look like:

Flags flew at sunset with 51 instead of the usual 50 stars along Pennsylvania Ave.
Flags flew at sunset with 51 instead of the usual 50 stars along Pennsylvania Ave. Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

What do opponents say?

Many opponents say a Constitutional amendment is required to make D.C. a state, and Congress doesn’t have the authority to do it by legislation alone. The founders, opponents say, intended D.C. to be a “neutral” ground and created it in the Constitution because they were concerned that a state housing the nation’s capital could exert undue influence over federal lawmakers.

“Nor would it be proper for the places on which the security of the entire Union may depend, to be in any degree dependent on a particular member of it,” James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers.

Today, opponents also are just as likely to dismiss the movement as a power grab by Democrats, who would benefit from greater representation for a heavily Democratic city.

In a Senate speech on Thursday, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas also dismissed the residents of D.C. as city dwellers who do not represent the “diversity” of America.

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“Yes, Wyoming is smaller than Washington by population, but it has three times as many workers in mining, logging, and construction, and 10 times as many workers in manufacturing,” Cotton said in the speech, which drew outrage on the left. “In other words, Wyoming is a well-rounded working-class state.”

Who is in favor?

In a 2016 referendum, the residents of Washington, D.C., voted overwhelmingly in favor of statehood. Democrats in recent years have taken up the cause, with House Democratic leadership endorsing the idea in a package of voting reforms passed shortly after Democrats regained control of the House in January 2019.


Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.