April 15 (UPI) -- Following a contentious floor debate, the House oversight and reform committee approved legislation to grant Washington, D.C., statehood, paving the way for a full House vote.
The Democrat-backed bill H.R. 51 to make Washington, D.C., the 51st state passed 25-19 by the House committee on oversight and reform on Wednesday with no Republican support.
"Statehood for D.C. is about equality, fairness and ensuring that the dreams of our founders are realized despite over 200 years of delayed justice," Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said in her closing remarks. "Our nation is founded upon the idea that all people should have a voice in their government. But without voting representation in Congress, the people of D.C. are denied that most basic right."
The bill was introduced by Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington, D.C.'s non-voting delegate, amid reinvigorated national calls for racial equality. It has met staunch resistance from Republicans. A similar bill passed the Democratic-led House before the Republican-led Senate decided to pass on it.
On Wednesday, the debate became contentious at times as Republicans accused Democrats of attempting to re-engineer the political landscape in their favor with the bill, while Democrats accused Republicans of attempting to disenfranchise voters by voting against it.
Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., rejected the notion that the bill is about voting representation, and said it is part of a broader Democratic plan to "change the playing field of American politics to enact their radical, progressive agenda."
"That is what this is all about," he said. "And when we talk about the benefits ... what really is being referred to is more senators. That's the benefit. That's what enables this radical, progressive agenda to be crammed down the throats of the American people."
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., retorted that his colleagues across the aisle speak as if the Republican Party will be destroyed if D.C. is given statehood, a framework they push to obfuscate from their true intention, which is to disenfranchise voters, particularly voters of color.
"It is better to disenfranchise, deny than to compete for those votes," he said. "It's a subterfuge for a powerful dynamic -- sadly, tragically -- to make it harder for people of color to vote in this great democracy because they're afraid they'll lose elections when that happens."
He said the bill seeks to franchise the more than 700,000 residents of the district.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a longtime supporter of D.C. statehood, celebrated the passing on Wednesday.
"Onward to the House floor next week," the organization tweeted. "It's time to end this historical wrong and bring full and equal rights to the 712,000 residents of D.C.!"
The bill, which would rename the district the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, after politician, writer and statesman Frederick Douglass, has the support of more than 120 civil rights, federal workers and other such groups, as well as D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and President Joe Biden.
After the bill was passed Wednesday, Norton said the bill's 215 cosponsors "virtually" guarantees it'll pass the House.
"With Democrats controlling the House, the Senate and the White House, we have never been closer to statehood," she said in a statement.