As Ranking Member of Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, Portman Delivers Opening Remarks at Hearing on D.C. Statehood

WASHINGTON, DC – This morning, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, delivered opening remarks at a hearing entitled “Examining D.C. Statehood” where he discussed his constitutional concerns about statehood for the District of Columbia. Senator Portman stressed that under the Constitution, D.C. was created as the “seat of Government” and Congress does not have the power to transform the “seat of Government” into a new state. 

A transcript of his opening remarks can be found below and a video can be found here

 

“Thank you, Chairman Peters. And thank you to our witnesses. We’ve got a distinguished group here today, including Eleanor Holmes Norton, my Congresswoman when I’m here in D.C., and Senator Joe Lieberman, who is back to this Committee, having served as its Chair and Ranking Member, and who really was the heart and soul of this Committee when he was here. We’re also going to hear from Muriel Bowser today, I appreciate her coming, and a good group of academics. As you know, Mr. Chairman, I have both practical and constitutional concerns about making Washington, D.C. its own state.  

“Legally, Congress does not have the power to override the Constitution, and that’s – to me – the most important issue here. D.C., of course, is the only place specifically created by the Constitution in Article I as the ‘seat of Government.’  Meaning, it has a special constitutional status completely different from any current or previous U.S. territory that eventually became a state through the Article IV Admissions Clause. Our Framers gave us a limited federal government – one in which Congress only wields the power explicitly granted to it. Here, neither the District Clause nor the Admissions Clause provides Congress with the power to transform the ‘seat of Government’ into a new state. Moreover, D.C. has special constitutional status, of course, in the Twenty-Third Amendment, which grants D.C. residents three electoral votes in Presidential elections. We cannot just legislate over these constitutional provisions. 

“Further, when Maryland authorized the cession of nearly 60 miles of its territory to the federal government for the creation of the District of Columbia in 1788, it did so for the purpose that ‘Congress may fix upon and accept [the land] for the seat of government.’ When Congress formally accepted the land from Maryland by legislative act in 1790, we explained that the land was ‘hereby accepted for the permanent seat of the government of the United States.’ Maryland gave up its land, and we accepted it, so that we could create an independent federal governmental district. Making D.C. into a separate state violates the solemn compact we made over two hundred years ago with Maryland, as well. And, by the way, we’d be creating a state that by acreage comprises less than 6 percent of the next smallest state, Rhode Island. A better option, in my view, would be to retrocede a large portion of the District to Maryland. Retrocession is the preferable way to provide D.C. residents with voting representation in both chambers of Congress. 

“This issue has come up before. The states declined to ratify the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment in the 1970s, which would have granted D.C. congressional representation in both Houses of Congress and repealed the Twenty-Third Amendment. Only 16 states ratified that amendment – 22 states short of the required two-thirds number for adoption. Surveys today would demonstrate that the American people are still not interested in eliminating their capital district.  

“Again, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the witnesses coming today and I look forward to hearing their testimony.” 

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