U.S. House on verge of approving Washington, D.C., statehood

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[June 26, 2020]  By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Four decades after launching its drive for U.S. statehood, Washington, D.C. was poised to take a step toward becoming the 51st state as the House of Representatives on Friday was expected to approve its admission.

Though the initiative was likely to pass handily in the House, where Democrats hold the majority, Republicans for years have actively opposed creating a state that they predict would elect Democrats to Congress.

Indeed, voters in the city of Washington have elected only Democratic mayors in recent history. Creating a state out of Washington would likely make it more difficult for Republicans to win majorities in the Senate.

Last month President Donald Trump, a Republican, told  the New York Post: "You mean District of Columbia, a state? Why? So we can have two more ... Democrat senators and five more congressmen? No thank you. That'll never happen."

If it became a state, Washington would likely only have one lawmaker, not five.

Proponents say Washington's 700,000 inhabitants - more than Vermont and Wyoming - have no voice in the federal government, despite paying federal taxes.

That status is protested with a slogan on Washington's automobile license plates that screams: "Taxation without representation."

Currently, legislation passed by the district's local government is subject to congressional review.

Local anger over the district's status flared up most recently during the coronavirus pandemic. Washington received $500 million for its pandemic response, compared to the $1.2 billion the federal government accorded to each of the 50 states.

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Soldiers are seen at the Washington Monument ahead of a protest against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Amid nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an African American man who died after a police officer kneeled against Floyd's neck, Trump sent National Guard troops from 10 states, over the objection of the district's mayor, to quell protests against racism and police brutality in the district.

"Not only do we not have voting senators and our congresswoman not have the right to vote, the whims of a federal government can encroach on our even limited autonomy," said Mayor Muriel Bowser at a press conference.

The state would be named Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, after George Washington, the first U.S. president, and Frederick Douglass, a former enslaved person turned famed abolitionist.

It would include the district's current 700,000 residents, but not major federal buildings, the National Mall, memorials and the museums, which would be housed in a federal enclave.

The last time the United States expanded was 1959, when Congress approved admitting Alaska and Hawaii as the 49th and 50th states, respectively, following congressional votes and the support of the president.

The U.S. constitution gives Congress the power to admit new states without specifying a process.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Richard Cowan and Tom Brown)

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