The Biden administration has quietly approached congressional Democrats about a potential change to their high-profile but long-shot effort to transform most of the District of Columbia into the nation’s 51st state, according to executive and legislative branch officials.
The bill, which passed the House last month but faces steep odds in the Senate, would admit the residential and commercial areas of the District of Columbia as a new state and leave behind a rump federal enclave encompassing the seat of government, including the Capitol, White House, Supreme Court, other federal buildings and monuments.
The deliberations center on the Constitution’s 23rd Amendment, which gives three Electoral College votes in presidential elections to the seat of government. If the bill passes, it is not clear how many, if any, potential voters would be left there. The only residence in the rump federal enclave would be the White House; presidential families traditionally choose to vote in their home states, but nothing forces them to do so. In theory, homeless people might also claim residency in the envisioned enclave.
If the amendment is not repealed after any statehood, the bill would try to block the appointment of the three presidential electors. But the administration is said to have proposed instead giving them to the winner of the popular vote.
Officials familiar with the discussion spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the political delicacy of the matter as Republicans continue to raise legal and policy objections to granting statehood to the District of Columbia’s 700,000 residents. Such a step would create two additional Senate seats that Democrats would most likely win, as well as grant a vote to the lone representative in the House.
If political conditions ever shift enough that the Senate someday approves granting statehood to the District of Columbia, Republican-controlled states are widely expected to sue to challenge its constitutionality. Though the White House endorsed the statehood bill in late April, officials said that how best to navigate the 23rd Amendment if it is not repealed has given the administration’s legal team greatest pause.
A White House lawyer acknowledged the interbranch dialogue among Democrats, saying: “Admitting D.C. as a state is comfortably within Congress’ power — arguments to the contrary are unfounded. But we also think there are ways to allay the concerns that have been raised, and that’s why we’re working with Congress to make the bill as strong as possible.”