WASHINGTON – A group campaigning to make the District of Columbia the country's 51st state is pinning its hopes on Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Minnesota's senior senator supports D.C. statehood, but she doesn't want to add it to a sweeping voting rights package before her committee on Wednesday.
As chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, Klobuchar has been a staunch advocate for the Democrats' package dubbed the For The People Act, which the group 51 for 51 wants to use to grant statehood.
"As the leader of that committee, it is important that Senator Klobuchar prioritize the over 700,000 residents of Washington, D.C.," said Stasha Rhodes, campaign manager of 51 for 51.
Supporters see making D.C. the 51st state as a civil rights and racial justice issue at a key moment in American politics. Forty-six percent of District of Columbia residents are Black, according to U.S. census data, and the district lacks full voting representation in Congress.
The debate has simmered in Washington for years, mainly as a popular cause among activists and D.C. residents that has failed to win widespread support. The issue has suddenly emerged as a top voting rights issue for Democrats in the rapidly evolving political landscape where Democrats now control the presidency and both chambers of Congress.
Republicans have maintained strong opposition for years, saying that the overwhelmingly Democratic makeup of the city would give the Democrats two more seats in the Senate and help in the House, altering the political dynamics in Congress and putting Republicans at a disadvantage.
Former GOP President Donald Trump told the New York Post last May that D.C. statehood will "never happen unless we have some very, very stupid Republicans around that I don't think you do."
Klobuchar said in a statement Tuesday that while she supports D.C. statehood, she resisted combining that effort with her work on the For The People Act. The bill is "one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in decades," the senator said, and "is urgently needed."
"If passed, the For the People Act will take the crucial first step of creating a congressional record in support of statehood, but more must be done and we need to pass separate legislation granting D.C. statehood," Klobuchar said in the statement. The legislation says "there are no constitutional, historical, fiscal, or economic reasons why the Americans who live in the District of Columbia should not be granted statehood."
51 for 51 has launched a national digital ad campaign pushing to include statehood in the bill. Close to $100,000 is focused on Minnesota, according to a spokesperson, along with plans for additional mobilization efforts focused on Klobuchar.
The For The People Act is already a sprawling package that would affect elections, campaign finance, ethics and voting rights. The House passed its version of the legislation, H.R.1, by a slim margin earlier this month, and its chances of Senate passage could hinge on changing the Senate 60-vote filibuster threshold, even though the party is not united behind overhauling the rule. Adding statehood to the mix would likely complicate Senate Democrats' lift on the bill.
51 for 51 is a member of Just Democracy, which describes itself as " a coalition of over 40 groups, led by Black and Brown organizers, advocating for structural democracy reform."
Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party and a member of the Just Democracy group, noted that Minneapolis became the epicenter for the reckoning on racial justice after George Floyd was killed.
"I think there's something poetic about the idea that a senator representing Minneapolis could be the cause for moving the ball significantly on civil rights this year," Mitchell said, pointing to both D.C. statehood and structural democracy reform.
The statehood push has gained influence in recent years, culminating in U.S. House passage of a bill to do just that in 2020. The effort stalled in the then-GOP-led Senate. A House committee held a hearing on a stand-alone bill for D.C. statehood on Monday. Republicans have attacked the change as a "power grab" that is "unconstitutional." President Joe Biden previously said he supports D.C. statehood.
Klobuchar is among the 41 senators listed as cosponsors of the Washington, D.C. Admission Act. But that's short of the votes the party would need to pass the bill even if the filibuster were eliminated.
While 51 for 51 supports the For The People Act, leader Rhodes emphasized that Democrats should do more.
"If Democrats truly want to address civil rights," she said, "they cannot do it while leaving out the majority Black and brown residents of D.C."
Hunter Woodall • 612-673-4559