D.C. statehood effort gets renewed push from Delaware senator

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Senator Tom Carper speaks at a podium.

File photo: Delaware Senator Tom Carper in 2022. (Emily Cohen/WHYY)

U.S. Senator Tom Carper is very familiar with what it takes to represent a small state. He’s been governor, U.S. representative, and senator of Delaware’s less than a million residents over the course of his decades-long career.

Now, he’s renewing his push for the creation of another small state, the District of Columbia. Carper joined fellow Democrats and D.C. leaders to correct what he calls an issue of basic fairness.

“Every day we work in the shadow of our capital, a beacon for democracy around the world. And yet, a historic injustice still prevails,” he said. “Nearly 700,000 Americans call the District of Columbia home and they do not have a voting representative in either chamber of the Congress.”

District residents have long called for statehood. In November 2016, residents approved a referendum setting up the framework to become the 51st state. That vote set the boundaries for the state and its name: Washington Douglas Commonwealth.

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“The disenfranchisement of 700,000 American citizens living in Washington, D.C. is 220-year-old wrong that we have a responsibility to fix,” said Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. “Over the last several years, the senator has gained more support in the Senate for the D.C. statehood bill than ever before.”

Carper picked up the D.C. statehood baton from former Sen. Joe Lieberman when he left office in 2013. Since then, the Delaware Democrat has rallied support in the Senate for the effort. In 2014, he hosted the first committee hearings on the idea in decades. In a hearing on the issue last year, Carper quoted a 2007 speech by Republican Mike Pence when he was in Congress.

“The fact that more than half a million Americans live in the District of Columbia and are denied a single voting representative in Congress is clearly an historic wrong, and justice demands that it be addressed,” Carper quoted Pence as saying.

In a narrowly split Congress, the idea of adding a new state that has overwhelmingly voted for Democrats is likely going to be a tough sell. D.C.’s two new senators would very likely both be Democrats, pushing the thin balance more in the party’s favor.

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But Carper said this push is not about one party or the other. “It’s an issue of basic fairness,” he said. “This Congress will continue making the case to my Republican colleagues, the D.C. statehood is not a Republican or Democratic issue, but an issue of fairness and equality.”

More than 40 Democratic senators are co-sponsoring Carper’s bill, including all four senators from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, along with Carper’s fellow Delaware Senator Chris Coons.

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