March 22 (UPI) -- Democrats argued in favor of statehood for Washington, D.C., at a testy House hearing Monday, calling it a civil rights issue, while Republicans dismissed the effort as a partisan "power grab."
Lawmakers and witnesses sparred mainly along party lines during the House oversight committee hearing, called to examine House Resolution 51.
The measure was introduced by Washington's non-voting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has tried repeatedly since the 1980s to convince Congress to give the District of Columbia statehood.
The long-standing push to make majority-Black Washington the 51st state has been reinvigorated amid a renewed national focus on racial equality. A similar D.C. statehood bill was approved by the Democratic-majority House last year for the first time, but the Republican-held Senate declined to take it up.
Norton was one of the key witnesses at Monday's hearing, arguing that Washingtonians must pay federal taxes as do other U.S. citizens but receive no representation in Congress in return.
"Congress can no longer allow D.C. residents to be sidelined in the democratic process," she said, adding that the District has "never been closer" to statehood until now with Democrats in control of the House, Senate and White House.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser noted that with 700,000 residents, Washington has a larger population than either Wyoming or Vermont, but has no vote in Congress despite its residents paying more federal taxes per capita than any state.
Committee chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said supporting the measure would "fulfill the promise of democracy" for Washington's residents.
Republicans on the committee, however, reiterated their steadfast opposition to the measure, calling it unconstitutional and citing its probable political benefits for Democrats, who would likely win the two additional Senate seats created by the measure.
"D.C. statehood is a key part of the radical leftist agenda to reshape America, along with the Green New Deal, defunding the police and packing the U.S. Supreme Court," ranking Republican member Rep. James Comer of Kentucky said in his opening statement.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., accused Democrats of "attempting to use a razor-thin majority that it has to entrench itself in power" and contended that adding states through legislation was "unconstitutional."
"I would say the real power grab is denying 712,000 taxpaying American citizens the right to vote," Maloney responded.
Washington, like other U.S. territories, has a delegate in the House but no actual voting member of either chamber of Congress. Because people of color account for the majority of the district's population, some supporters say the push for statehood is also a push for racial equality.
The Senate version of the bill has more than 40 Democratic sponsors and President Joe Biden has supported admitting Washington, D.C., as a state. The Democrats' slim one-vote majority in the Senate, however, makes passage difficult due to the legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes to break.
Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory in the Caribbean, has also long campaigned for statehood but has run into similar obstacles.