WASHINGTON — UPDATE 5.12.2022
An attempt to codify Roe failed in the U.S. Senate on May 11 after it was voted down by a vote of 50 to 49, with Sen. Joe Manchin the sole Democrat voting against the measure. The Women's Health Protection Act, had previously passed the House and would have needed 60 votes to defeat a Republican-lead filibuster.
While the measure failed to garner even a simple majority, many Democratic lawmakers took the opportunity to attack the filibuster, as a blockade to majority rule. That included progressive lawmakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
"For the sake of our people and the sake of our democracy, we mut #EndTheFilibuster," Warren wrote on Twitter.
This sentiment was echoed by many progressive leaders, who have seen various pieces of legislation fail due to the necessary sixty-vote threshold. On this specific vote, abolishing the filibuster would not have helped Democrats, since they did not have a simple majority.
Now that Democrats have control in the House, the Senate, and the White House, could D.C. get statehood through a simple majority vote?
Yes, although there would need to be a rule change in the Senate.
In the House of Representatives, a statehood bill would only need a majority vote, which it got on April 22. In the Senate, a bill typically needs 60 votes to overcome the filibuster.
The Senate has already used the 'nuclear option' to remove the filibuster two times since 2013. The first time was in 2013, when Democrats made the change allowing lower-level executive and judicial nominees to be named with a simple majority.
In 2017, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used the 'nuclear option' yet again, to allow a simple majority vote for Supreme Court picks.
Some Democrats have already gone on record stating that they are opposed to the removal of the filibuster for votes on statehood.
- Senate Rules
- Congressional Record, November 21, 2013
- CSPAN Recording, November, 21, 2013
- 51 For 51, DC Statehood Advocates
- Alan B. Morrison, The George Washington University Law School
DC statehood advocates have been pushing for the 51st state for generations.
With a new majority for the Democratic party in the Senate, some advocates have renewed their optimism that this could finally happen.
The Verify team spoke with Alan B. Morrison, a legal expert from The George Washington University Law School. He said that this is a definite possibility, but it would involve changing the Senate rules on the filibuster.
"That's certainly a legal option," he said. "The question is would they want to do that for statehood."
Typically, bills need 60 votes to pass in the Senate because of the filibuster. Any Senator can demand debate, and essentially block the vote. The only way to force a vote is through a "vote of cloture," which requires 60 votes.
This system has created a political reality; To pass a controversial bill in the senate, there really must be 60 Senators on board.
Chipping away at the filibuster:
WUSA9 went into great detail about 51 For 51, an advocacy group fighting to end the filibuster for Statehood bills, which can be found here. Over the last decade, the filibuster has been weakened by both political parties.
In 2013, when Democrats held a Senate majority, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid triggered the "nuclear option," for the first time. In this move, the Senate voted to change the rules, so that it only took a simple majority to confirm nominees from the executive and judiciary, except for those nominations to the Supreme Court.
Four years later, this move would come back to bite them.
The Republicans were in control, and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lead his party to use the 'nuclear option' once again, this time to confirm Supreme Court Justices with just 51 votes.
"They could simply change the filibuster rule again," said Morrison. "And say the filibuster rule does not apply for applications of new states. They could do that with the stroke of the pen."
The bigger question is whether there's an appetite for such a mood from Democratic senators. The Democrats hold a razor-thin 50-50 tie, allowing Vice President Kamala Harris to be the deciding vote.
If just one Democrat decides they are opposed to removing the filibuster, the motion will fail. Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet told WUSA9 that he opposed such a move in 2019. Sen. Joe Manchin echoed this sentiment in a November interview.
"There's no question they have the power to do it," said Morrison. "The question is do they have the will and the votes."