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Sen. Joe Manchin opposes making Washington, D.C. the nation's 51st state through the legislative process, arguing that a constitutional amendment is needed for the popular move. (Photo: Al Drago/Washington Post via Getty Images)

Sen. Joe Manchin opposes making Washington, D.C. the nation's 51st state through the legislative process, arguing that a constitutional amendment is needed for the popular move. (Photo: Al Drago/Washington Post via Getty Images) 

In Yet Another Threat to Dems' Agenda, Manchin Opposes DC Statehood Bill

"Over the course of U.S. history, we've added 37 states," said one expert who pushed back against the senator's position. "Not a single one required a constitutional amendment."

Brett Wilkins

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia bolstered his impedimentary pedigree on Friday by becoming the first Democratic senator to publicly oppose legislation that would make Washington, D.C. the nation's 51st state.

D.C. statehood would not only end "taxation without representation" for the capital's approximately 700,000 residents, it would also boost Manchin's own party's political fortunes as the city's residents overwhelmingly vote Democratic. Following last week's passage of the Washington, D.C. Admissions Act (H.R. 51) by the House of Representatives, voting rights advocates demanded the Senate follow suit.

However, despite having 51 votes in the upper chamber, the faltering foursome of Democratic caucus members—Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Independent Angus King of Maine, and Manchin—who oppose or have yet to signal their support for statehood-by-legislation pose a potentially mortal threat to D.C.'s hopes. 

From opposing the $15 federal minimum wagehigher corporate taxes, and the pro-democracy reforms of the For the People Act, to preserving the filibuster and the fossil fuel industry, Manchin has earned a reputation among progressives as an obstructionist to rival the most intransigent Republican. 

During a Friday morning press call, Manchin told reporters in his home state that he believes making the nation's capital a state would require a constitutional amendment. Discussing H.R. 51, Manchin invoked former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in saying that the measure "complicates D.C.'s pathway to statehood." The senator said:

Congress had three options to choose from back in 1961. They could either have D.C. statehood, they could have retrocession to Maryland... or they could have granted electoral votes to D.C.... Congress selected, at that time, option three... Kennedy said in 1963 that Congress and the states embodied this choice in the form of a constitutional amendment.

Hence, it is arguable that the choice can now be reconsidered only by means of another constitutional amendment. He said that we are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and it seems to me that's who should be answering this question. Let the American people decide.

The people, according to a March poll by Data for Progress and Democracy for All 2021, support D.C. statehood. Over half (54%) of all survey respondents said they favored statehood, including 74% of Democrats, 51% of Independents, and 34% of Republicans. That is the highest level of support for the policy recorded to date.

"The people who elected President [Joe] Biden and Democrats in Congress recognize that making D.C. a state is critical to the fight for racial justice and civil rights in this country," Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement after the poll's publication. 

Last week, the White House formally endorsed D.C. statehood, with its Office of Management and Budget declaring the move "will make our union stronger and more just."  

In a Friday Chicago Sun-Times opinion piece, civil rights icon, two-time Democratic presidential candidate, and longtime D.C. statehood supporter Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. argued that racism and Republican fear of losing power are behind opposition to making the district a state, and that doing so is a matter of fundamental fairness.

"The case for D.C. statehood is clear," he wrote. "The nation was founded in protest against taxation without representation. D.C. residents are denied voting representation in the House and Senate."

"The nation is shamed by military service without representation," Jackson added. "D.C. residents have fought in wars going back to the Revolutionary War and yet have no representatives to vote in favor or against those wars. America, which claims to lead democracies across the world, denies the foundation of democracy to more than 700,000 citizens in the nation's capital."

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