On April 22nd, the US House debated whether Washington D.C. should become the 51st State. The bill, titled H.R. 51, would reduce the size of the federal district and create a new state that would be represented by two U.S. senators and a representative. If admitted as the 51st state, D.C. would be the first state where black Americans would make up the majority of its population.
Once the bill hit the House floor, representatives from both sides of the aisle made arguments for and against D.C. statehood. Democrats argued that D.C. statehood was long overdue since its population passed the 700,000-population milestone, but still is taxed without the same level of representation as other states. The Biden administration also supported D.C. statehood.
Republicans, on the other hand, argued that the move was a power grab by the left – with some saying the move was unconstitutional with another objective since D.C. didn’t have its own landfill.
Republicans forced him to withdraw his words, but the truth remains: Race is a critical factor in the long-term denial of rights for DC residents. Enough. pic.twitter.com/bTJX3VyBSp
— The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) April 22, 2021
But what made the news was Rep. Mondaire Jones, a congressman from New York’s 17th District, who spoke in support of the bill. “I have had enough of my colleagues’ racist insinuation that somehow the people of Washington D.C. are incapable or even unworthy of our Democracy,” he said on the House floor. “One Senate Republican saying that D.C. wouldn’t be a ‘well-rounded working-class state.’ I had no idea there were so many syllables in the word white.”
Jones’ comments started a firestorm on the House floor. Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland, asked Jones to strike his comments from the record, which Jones eventually agreed to, but added that the GOP’s “desperate objections are about fear.”
The bill ultimately passed 216-208 along party lines.
Following the bill’s passing, the political world quickly descended on Jones’s comments. Progressive democratic groups supported the congressman, saying that he “spoke truth to power” and highlighted the “long-term denial of rights for D.C. residents.” While conservative outlets and politicians framed Jones’ comments as another example of weaponizing race for their own leftist agenda.
“Unfortunately, that is the go-to attack of Democrats,” Sen. Ted Cruz said on Fox News. “They are deliberately playing on racial division in our country. They do it issue after issue after issue.”
Two days after his comments on the House floor, Rep. Jones was a guest on CNN’s Smerconish, and when given a chance to walk back his comments, Jones did nothing of the sort. “When you listen to the explanations set forth by my Republican colleagues, you can see quite clearly that they are not offered in good faith. …If you uphold systems of white supremacy — even if you do not consider yourself to be racist — you are engaging in racist activity.”
According to the 2019 Census, of the approximately 700, 000 residents in the D.C. area an estimated 46% of Washington D.C.’s population is black. Its population is also larger Vermont and Wyoming, and roughly on par with Alaska – three states that, of course, have their corresponding federal representation.
Older polling would suggest that most Americans oppose D.C. statehood. A Gallup poll conducted in June 2019 found that 64 percent of Americans oppose the idea – with 51 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of independents, and 78 percent of Republicans against the idea. However, more recent polling shows that Americans are much more closely divided.
So far, in his first 100 days in Congress, Rep. Jones has taken no time getting used to his surroundings before speaking out on the issues of the day. Jones’ predecessor, Congresswoman Nita Lowey, served for 32 years in the House, working her way up through leadership to become Appropriations Chair. Both Jones and Lowey are democratic progressives but represent their constituents differently.
Their two different governing styles are emblematic of the progressive shift within the Democratic Party. While Lowey was part of the ‘old guard’ that bided their time, Jones is unapologetically outspoken even if it were to differ from the lockstep messaging of the overall party. It is no wonder that when he and other freshmen House Dems like Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush were elected, they were portrayed by the media as an extension of ‘The Squad’ made up of AOC, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Presley.
How Jones’ constituents respond to his inflammatory commentary can serve as a microcosm for the direction of the Democratic Party as a whole. Located in the suburbs of New York City, the 17th Congressional District of New York is made up of approximately 741,000 people and has a median household income of 100,148 dollars. Demographically, it is 60 percent White, 21.5 percent Hispanic, 9.6 percent Black, and 6.3 percent Asian. In other words: the district is wealthier and whiter than the rest of the state.
Time will tell if the suburban New York Democrats that Jones represents support his push for D.C. statehood. If Jones’ constituents rally behind his messaging, it could indicate how socially progressive the party is becoming – even in the wealthy burbs.