Turning the nation’s capital into the 51st state was already seen as an uphill battle. And it became even more steep on Friday, when Sen. Joe Manchin turned into the first Democratic senator to publicly come out against the measure. Considering the 50-50 Senate split, the opposition by the senator from West Virginia could end up delivering a fatal blow to the push for D.C. statehood. As far as Manchin is concerned, the only proper way to turn Washington, D.C. into a state is through an amendment to the Constitution.
“If Congress wants to make D.C. a state, it should propose a constitutional amendment … and let the people of America vote,” Manchin said in a radio interview. When Manchin was asked directly if he would oppose a move by Congress to make the nation’s capital a state, he made his views clear: “Yes, I would.” Manchin said that any unilateral action by Congress would lead to a challenge at the Supreme Court. “Every legal scholar has told us that,” Manchin said. “So why not do it the right way and let the people vote to see if they want to change?”
Stasha Rhodes, who is the campaign director for the group 51 for 51 that is advocating for D.C. statehood, pushed back against Manchin saying that his own state was the product of legislation. “Adding states through legislation is how it’s been done in the United States for 200 years. It is how West Virginia was admitted in 1863, how Hawaii was admitted in 1959, and how DC will be admitted in 2021,” Rhodes said. “No member of the Senate should deny voting rights to 700,000 mostly Black and Brown Washingtonians based on a flimsy understanding of the Constitution and American history.”
Manchin spoke on the issue a week after the Democratic-led House of Representatives approved legislation to make D.C. the 51st state in a 216–208 vote along party lines. Biden has thrown his support behind the measure. Manchin was only one of four Senate Democrats who had yet to give their opinions on the measure. And while his opposition is certainly a blow to the cause, even with his support the bill was likely headed for failure because the Senate filibuster rules would require 60 senators to support the measure in order for it to advance.