Should a bare majority be sufficient to make the District of Columbia or Puerto Rico new states?
The House of Representatives approved statehood for Washington, D.C., also known as the District of Columbia, by a party-line 216–208 vote in April. Despite Democratic control of the Senate, the bill’s path there is less certain because of Democratic holdouts such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
Another House bill to grant Puerto Rico statehood has attracted 67 bipartisan cosponsors, mostly Democrats. President Biden has expressed his support, though he added that the measure should only be enacted if Puerto Ricans themselves support it, which they narrowly did in a nonbinding 2020 referendum.
Most Republicans oppose statehood for both D.C. and Puerto Rico. Currently the measures only need majority support in both the Senate and House to pass, and Democrats possess majority control of both chambers.
What the constitutional amendment does
A new constitutional amendment proposal would increase the threshold for granting statehood to two-thirds of both the House and Senate.
In practice, because Democrats control more than half but less than two-thirds of both the Senate and the House, this would effectively doom either D.C.’s or Puerto Rico’s chances for statehood, at least under the current Congress. (Though the odds of either party gaining control of at least two-thirds in either chamber during the next few years are also slim.)
What supporters say
Supporters argue that rather than a partisan attempt to add more Democrats to Congress, new states should be supported across the political spectrum.
“The attempt to create a state from the District of Columbia is a brazen abuse of power with the obvious intention to pack the U.S. Senate,” Rep. McClintock tweeted. “I introduced H.J. Res. 42, a constitutional amendment to require a 2/3 vote for the admission of states. Such reform would assure that new states are only created with bi-partisan consensus.”
Supporters may also argue that recent history also supports their position. The most recently-admitted state was Hawaii in 1959, which only needed majority support yet received above two-thirds anyway. The Senate version passed 76–15, while the House version passed 323–89.
What opponents say
Opponents may counter that although this proposal was ostensibly introduced as a counter to Democratic partisanship, the proposal itself is partisan, since it’s a Republican-led idea to essentially prevent more Democratic legislators.
However, those same Republicans express little concern about Republican states like Wyoming maintaining two senators, despite having a lower population than Washington, D.C. which has no senators at all.
Also, opponents may note that the most recent red state admitted was Alaska, which passed with less than two-thirds support (56 percent) in the House — yet you don’t see Republicans arguing that vote should be considered invalid.
Odds of passage
The proposal has attracted four cosponsors, all Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee. Odds of passage are low in the Democratic-controlled chamber.
A constitutional amendment must be approved by two-thirds of the House, two-thirds of the Senate, and three-quarters of state legislatures (at least 38 of the 50) for ratification.