The Washington Socialist <> February, 2017
By Bill Mosley
If I get one more email asking me to call or write my senator to stop a Trump cabinet nomination, I will scream.
To be sure, Trump’s nominations and appointments have been, if anything, worse than feared. His mix of corporate CEOs, retired generals and conservative ideologues promises four years that almost (but not quite) engenders nostalgia for George W. Bush years. If all of the nominees are confirmed, Trump will have the whitest, most heavily male cabinet since the Reagan administration – and the first since Reagan to include no Latinos, not especially surprising given Trump’s anti-Hispanic diatribes. Paul Waldman, writing in the Washington Post, called Trump’s cabinet “the worst in American history.” And it got worse when Trump announced his pick for the Supreme Court vacancy: the arch-conservative Neil Gorsuch.
I would like to do my civic duty and try to stop these nominees in the time-honored manner of American democracy. But there is a problem: The Senate has the “advice and consent” power over presidential nominees. And as a DC resident, I have no voting Senators. Nor, for that matter, do I have a real representative in the House, only a delegate who can vote in committee but not on the House floor.
It is at time like these that DC residents are most disenfranchised. Unlike other Americans, we are locked out of any say in the selection of officials who will prosecute our laws, protect our safety, keep us out of war and defend us should war come. And while Cabinet members come and go, Trump’s choice for the Supreme Court could be voting to strike down progressive legislation and hand more power to corporations through several presidential administrations.
This is why everyone from moderate Democrats through the socialist left should be demanding DC statehood. Ideally, all Americans who value democracy – and that should be all Americans, period – should support full citizenship for the District strictly out of principle. But we all know that Republicans will oppose DC statehood tooth and nail, because DC is certain to send an all-Democratic delegation to Congress.
That means a bill for statehood will pass only when there is a Democratic president, a Democratic majority in the House and a filibuster-proof total of 60 Democrats in the Senate. It could happen – and did happen, during the early part of Obama’s first term. Alas, due to the shortsightedness of District officials, who campaigned for a doomed bill to provide only a single vote in the House of Representatives, the moment was lost. And had it passed, it still would have left us without senators – and today we see how critical Senate representation is to full democratic rights.
This is an issue not only for DC residents, but for everyone. Think of how the dynamic of the voting on Trump’s nominations might be different if, instead of the Senate being divided 52-48 in favor of the Republicans, the margin was instead 52-50. Trump would have a narrower tightrope to walk to get his more controversial nominees confirmed. As the Socialist goes to press, most Democrats have already rolled over on a few of the less-contentious picks, but such still-pending hopefuls as Rex Tillerson (State), Jeff Sessions (Justice), Betsy DeVos (Education) and Tom Price (HHS) have encountered friction during their confirmation processes, and not all of it from Democrats. When Trump’s inevitably horrible Supreme Court pick comes down, the chances of blocking it would be better if DC had voting senators.
Having senators would provide District voters with elected officials responsible to them not only for nominees for the Cabinet and the Supreme Court, but also for the rest of the federal courts, as well as international treaties and the removal of the President under impeachment (that one can’t come soon enough). That the District lacks such representation should be a cause for outrage among not only DC residents, but for all Americans with a conscience.
I wonder at the insensitivity of organizations that send messages to District residents urging us to “call our senators.” Are they really that ignorant of DC’s disenfranchisement? For some organizations, their email lists might not identify which recipients live in DC, or they don’t care to tailor their messages appropriately. A few of the more savvy groups suggest DC residents contact the Senate majority and minority leaders, or the heads of committees. But folks in DC delude themselves if they think this gets them anywhere: The only citizens that the Senators heed, if they heed any at all, are those who can vote for or against them.
The lack of voting members of Congress isn’t the only outrage that the District’s citizens suffer under our colonial status. Congress also can override the DC government’s legislation, and pass legislation that can be imposed on us over our objections. For the last eight years President Obama was generally reliable in vetoing the most egregious violations of DC’s home rule. But now, with Republicans in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, our self-appointed overseers are preparing another of their periodic assaults on DC’s self-governance. Congress is currently plotting to gut the District’s gun restrictions, ban our funding of abortions for poor women, and overturn our recent law providing for death with dignity for terminally ill patients – and that’s just for starters.
For more than two centuries, the US government has made, enforced and interpreted laws without the consent of the residents of the nation’s capital – today accounting for 700,000 taxpaying citizens, more than the number living in fully enfranchised Wyoming or Vermont. This should be an outrage to all Americans. The persistence of this fact is a blot on American democracy. It’s time for all Americans who love justice to get behind DC statehood, for their own good as well as ours.
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