Mar 22, 2021
Mayor Bowser Opening Statement Transcript on Making D.C. the 51st State
Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser testified during a congressional hearing on March 22 on a D.C. statehood bill. The bill would make Washington, D.C. the 51st U.S. state. Read the transcript of her opening statement here.
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Muriel Bowser: (00:00)
Chairman Maloney, thank you. Ranking member Comer, Congresswoman Norton, and members of this esteemed committee, on behalf of 712,000 residents of the District of Columbia, I thank you for convening this hearing on HR 51, the Washington, DC Admission Act. In particular, we thank you for shepherding this measure to passage during the 116th Congress. And we respectfully ask you to do it again. I want to especially thank our Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has championed equality for Washington, DC throughout her tenure while skillfully delivering jobs, opportunity, and greater self-determination.
Muriel Bowser: (00:47)
I am Muriel Bowser. I am mayor of Washington, DC, and I’m honored to come before this committee to ask this Congress to right the wrong that happened 220 years ago when the residents of the District of Columbia were stripped of their full congressional representation. Two years ago in the 116th, I came before this committee under the leadership of the late Elijah Cummings to dispel erroneous arguments against DC statehood. These are bad faith arguments, and I’m sure we will hear them time and time again this morning.
Muriel Bowser: (01:26)
They say Washington, DC statehood is unconstitutional, even though constitutional experts have refuted this claim. Article one of the Constitution is not an obstacle. As HR 51 makes clear, a federal district will remain for the federal government, its buildings and its workings, and the rest of the area where people live will become the 51st state.
Muriel Bowser: (01:55)
They say Washington, DC is too small, our economy is not diverse enough, even though we’re bigger by population than two states and pay more per capita than any state. We pay more in total federal taxes than 22 states.
Muriel Bowser: (02:12)
They say Washington, DC can’t take care of itself. This is simply not accurate. In fact, by many objective measures, DC is a better governed jurisdiction than most states. We have balanced our budgets for 25 times in the last 25 years. And we already operate as a state and perform the same functions as states do. During the coronavirus pandemic, for example, we have led COVID 19 testing, contact tracing, and the vaccination efforts just as states do. And we are treated like a state in more than 500 citations in federal law.
Muriel Bowser: (02:56)
Again, two years ago, we debunked those claims as thinly veiled attacks on our political leanings and quite frankly, on our diversity and history of black political power. Today, I come to urge this committee and this Congress to move beyond the tired non-factual and frankly anti-democratic rhetoric and extend full diverse democracy to the residents of the District of Columbia as the founding fathers saved for later a day.
Muriel Bowser: (03:32)
I was born in Washington, DC and generations of my family, through no choice of our own, had been denied the fundamental right promise to all Americans, the right to full representation and Congress. The simple fact is denying American citizens a vote in the body that taxes them goes against the founding principles of this great nation. The disenfranchisement of Washingtonians is one of the remaining glaring civil rights and voting rights issues of our time. Even as the Constitution was being drafted, several members foresaw the situations that Washingtonian space today, a capital city of second-class citizens. When white residents were the only population to be effected, as they were the only ones with suffrage at the time, the founding fathers pledged to correct the wrong and the Continental Congress was eager to offer amendments to correct it. But ultimately the Constitution did not resolve the concerns around the future of federal districts’ congressional representation, or self-governance.
Muriel Bowser: (04:49)
Why did the motivation to write the wrong disappear? As time passed, the district became majority African-American. The drive to correct the wrong was replaced by racist efforts to subvert a growing and thriving black city. Historic records abound with statements of success of members of Congress referencing the Negro problem or the color problem within DC as a justification to withhold congressional representation. This was their way of saying African-Americans are unable to govern themselves or vote for their best interest or I dare say, be the face of the nation’s Capitol. Surely in 2020, this body cannot associate themselves with that view.
Muriel Bowser: (05:44)
Next month, we will celebrate President Lincoln signing the Emancipation Act that freed the slaves in the District of Columbia, April 16th, 1862 months before the Emancipation Proclamation freed other enslaved people in our country. I hope to remind this Congress that district residents are still not free as we remain disenfranchised by this body.
Muriel Bowser: (06:13)
I urge all of you to do what over two centuries of lawmakers have failed to correct and grant full democracy to DC residents through statehood. The incremental enfranchisement of the district, limited enfranchisement, has historically been a bipartisan effort, but it is in no way a substitute for full representation in this Congress. Washington, DC has been a true partner to the federal government in every aspect, even though Congress and presidents have been sporadic partners to us. We have supported continuing the critical operations of this body and other federal agencies within our border.
Muriel Bowser: (06:59)
The federal government leaned on our health department to process coronavirus test and administer vaccines to federal employees and contractors. However, several provisions of federal aid to respond to the coronavirus pandemic denied us state level funding, shortchanging us $755 million in fiscal relief, even though we operate as a city county and state. We now thank you, Madam Chair, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, our Congresswoman, and your democratic colleagues and President Biden for righting that wrong last week with the American Rescue Plan.
Muriel Bowser: (07:40)
The events of January 6th, where Congress was overtaken by insurrectionists, showed that Congress need not fear the new state of Washington, DC, as it does not currently fear the states of Maryland or Virginia. Rather, the new state will be a necessary partner to securing the federal interest, not a detractor. Arguing that Washingtonians must remain disenfranchised to protect the interests of the federal government is dangerous, outdated, and downright insulting.
Muriel Bowser: (08:14)
After years of disinvestment and disinterest when Congress did exercise full exclusive jurisdiction over the district and ran all of district governance, my predecessors and I with Council Chairman Mendelson, and his colleagues, and their predecessors, have worked hard to develop the fastest improving urban schools, invest in housing, healthcare facilities, recreational facilities, as well as a sports and entertainment and meetings based economy. We have proven our sound leadership and there is no reason for this Congress not to right this wrong.
Muriel Bowser: (08:54)
Thank you again for allowing us to speak. And I’m happy to answer your questions.