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Why Washington, DC, isn’t a state

The US is closer than ever to getting a 51st state. Could it actually happen?

On June 26, 2020, the US House of Representatives voted to make America’s capital city, Washington, DC, the country’s 51st state. It was a historic vote, and the closest the country has come to adding a new state in more than 60 years. But it was also, for the time being, completely symbolic. Because at least in 2020, DC has virtually no chance of becoming a state.

That June 26 vote was almost entirely along party lines; Democrats mostly voted in favor of DC statehood, and Republicans against it. That’s because making DC a state would give Democrats additional seats in Congress, potentially affecting the balance of power between the parties. It’s why President Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate have both promised to strike down any bid for DC statehood. In fact, statehood in the US has always been a political issue. In the past, the US has often added states in pairs to preserve the political balance. Admitting a new state on its own has happened, but it’s unusual.

But the case for DC statehood is strong: The city has a similar population to several states, its hundreds of thousands of residents lack any say in national lawmaking, and its local government is uniquely vulnerable to being strong-armed by Congress and the federal government. Simply put, the laws that created the district did not anticipate that it would one day be a major city. And while the last time Congress voted on DC statehood, in 1993, the Democratic-controlled House failed to pass it, today’s Democratic Party is increasingly on board with it. If 2020’s election puts the Democrats in full control of the federal government, America might actually get its 51st state.

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