Top Dem Senate Challengers Silent on D.C. Statehood

Schumer has made capital statehood for heavily Democratic city a 'top priority'

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July 30, 2020

A number of prominent 2020 Democratic Senate challengers have refused to take a position on D.C. statehood after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) called the issue a "top priority" should his party gain control of the upper chamber.

Democratic Senate nominees in North Carolina, Maine, and Arizona—three races considered vital to determining the Senate majority in 2020—have yet to take a stance on whether D.C. should become the nation's 51st state. Challengers in Texas and Kentucky, as well as Sen. Doug Jones (D., Ala.), have also failed to address the issue. None of the candidates responded to a request for comment from the Washington Free Beacon.

The collective silence comes just weeks after House Democrats passed a bill in June to make D.C. a state—and hand the overwhelmingly Democratic city two seats in the Senate. While the legislation was considered dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate, Schumer suggested he would revive the measure should Democrats win a Senate majority in November.

"As one of my top priorities when it comes to voting rights and democracy reform, I will keep working in the Senate to secure statehood, full voting rights, and full home rule for D.C. in this Congress and beyond," Schumer said in a statement.

Schumer is far from the only top Democrat to rally behind D.C. statehood in recent weeks. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who first backed D.C. statehood in 2015, reiterated his support following the House vote. The recently passed Democratic Party platform also supports D.C. statehood.

The issue, however, is potentially problematic for Democratic Senate candidates in competitive races. It has not polled well nationally; a 2019 Gallup poll found that just 29 percent of adults support D.C. statehood. In addition, GOP opponents have portrayed the push for statehood as a Democratic power grab, making it easier for liberals to pass far-left policies that are unpopular in the swing states required to win a Senate majority.

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has repeatedly railed against D.C. statehood, his opponent, Amy McGrath, has ignored questions on the issue throughout her campaign.

"There's nothing Amy McGrath and other extreme Democrats would love more than to silence Kentucky voices and to work against our values in Congress," Katharine Cooksey, McConnell's campaign spokeswoman, told the Free Beacon. "Adding two new Democratic senators would be a disaster for Kentucky and our nation, propelling us closer to socialism."

Sen. Thom Tillis (R., N.C.) has also criticized Democrats' push for D.C. statehood. His opponent, Democrat Cal Cunningham, has not taken a stance on the issue and did not respond to a request for comment.

"Cal Cunningham, if he gets elected, is going to be a rubber stamp for Chuck Schumer," Tillis said during a July speech at the North Carolina GOP convention. "Let me tell you what he's going to do because Chuck Schumer's already admitted it and Speaker Pelosi has already shown her hand. They've already passed a bill for D.C. statehood—two more Democrat senators."

A Democratic Senate majority would undoubtedly boost D.C.'s chances of becoming a state. Still, the recently passed House bill could struggle in a Schumer-controlled Senate should Democrats fail to eliminate the filibuster. While the rule effectively ensures that a D.C. statehood bill would require 60 votes to pass as opposed to a simple majority, both Schumer and Biden have expressed an openness to eliminating it.

"Once we get the majority, we'll discuss it in our caucus," Schumer said in late July. "Nothing's off the table." Just one week prior to Schumer's comments, Biden said he would "have to take a look at" ending the filibuster.

McConnell has long opposed the rule change, saying in 2017 that he would not eliminate the filibuster. Some Democrats who previously opposed the change are now open to the idea. After heading a letter in favor of keeping the filibuster in 2017, longtime Biden ally Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) said he may look to eliminate the rule in order to more easily push through legislation under the Biden administration.

"I will not stand idly by for four years and watch the Biden administration's initiatives blocked at every turn," Coons said in a June Politico profile. "I am going try really hard to find a path forward that doesn't require removing what's left of the structural guardrails, but if there's a Biden administration, it will be inheriting a mess, at home and abroad. It requires urgent and effective action."

Many of the Democratic Senate challengers have voiced support for eliminating the filibuster. Cunningham campaigned against the legislative maneuver in 2010 and has since called for "a reform in the way that rule is used." McGrath came out against the filibuster in a July MSNBC interview. Democrat Sara Gideon, who is running against Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), told HuffPost in June that eliminating the filibuster would allow the Senate to "function more productively and make a real difference for Mainers." And Sen. Martha McSally's (R., Ariz.) opponent, Democrat Mark Kelly, has pledged to "consider how any changes to the way the Senate does business could help improve the lives of Arizonans."

Senate Leadership Fund communications director Jack Pandol slammed Democrats' push to end the filibuster and make D.C. a state, calling it a "thinly veiled ploy to change the composition of the Senate and put a Republican majority further out of reach."

"If Democrats take control of the Senate, they will rig the rules in every conceivable way to tilt the playing field against Republicans," he told the Free Beacon.