WASHINGTON -- The first House hearing on D.C. statehood in nearly 26 years revealed old battle lines over giving the District of Columbia's 702,000 residents full representation in Congress with House Oversight Committee Democrats applauding statehood as a long-overdue correction of an anomaly and Republicans claiming corruption in the district made it unfit for full voting rights, and saying the whole thing was unconstitutional anyway.
Thursday's hearing grappled with HR 51, a bill to would admit the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, into the Union as the country's 51st state, and provide it one House representative and two senators. D.C. is currently represented by a nonvoting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who introduced the bill.
The bill would establish D.C. territory and exclude certain federal buildings, such as the Capitol complex. That federal enclave would have complete authority over the reduced federal footprint within the District of Columbia.
The line to enter the packed Rayburn Office Building hearing room was long, filled with proponents of D.C. statehood who were dressed in red and white clothing and donned the three-star D.C. flag.
Step-by-step, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser addressed the arguments against D.C. statehood, including the notion that it is unconstitutional and that the city is poorly governed.
"I was born in Washington, D.C., and generations of my family -- through no choice of our own -- have been denied the fundamental right promised to all Americans: the right to full representation in the Congress guaranteed by statehood," Bowser said.
Ranking Member Jim Jordan pounced on Bowser's arguments in his opening statement. The Ohio Republican took issue with the absence of D.C. Council Member Jack Evans.
Evans -- embroiled in a corruption scandal and under federal criminal investigation -- was rejected as a minority witness by Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md. Evans' absence was because the committee had already invited the Cato Institute's Roger Pilon, and Cummings disagreed with Jordan's effort to link Evan's scandal to the D.C. statehood issue.
"Sadly, the allegations against Mr. Evans are just the latest in a series of local D.C. political scandals," Jordan said, who requested the committee subpoena Evans.
Jordan and other Republicans said the D.C. statehood effort -- which has garnered 219 co-sponsors, none of whom are Republicans -- needs to accomplish that goal through a constitutional amendment instead of the bill before them.