D.C. prepares for 1st House statehood hearing in 25 years

The House Oversight Committee will discuss H.R. 51, a bill which seeks to make the District of Columbia the 51st state.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
American flags fly at sunset with 51 instead of the usual 50 stars, along Pennsylvania Ave., part of a display in support of statehood for the District of Columbia, Sept. 15, 2019, in Washington.

About 140 United States flags bearing an extra star are flying along Pennsylvania Avenue as Washington, D.C., prepares for its first House hearing on U.S. statehood in a quarter century.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser led a caravan toward the U.S. Capitol on Monday to symbolize the city's fight for congressional voting rights.

The Washington Post reported that mayoral spokeswoman LaToya Foster said the event and flags cost about $31,200, which came out of the $1 million that city lawmakers set aside to fight for statehood.

The bill set to be discussed Thursday by the Oversight Committee has more than 200 co-sponsors and the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, both Democrats. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to block a companion bill that has more than 30 sponsors.

Also up for discussion at the hearing may be an ongoing scandal involving D.C. Councilman Jack Evans. Mr. Evans resigned from his role as the chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority board this summer after an internal investigation determined that he failed to disclose a profitable conflict of interest.

The findings by the Metro ethics committee were initially kept confidential, enabling Mr. Evans, his lawyer and former board member Corbett Price to lie about the findings and claim Mr. Evans had been cleared of wrongdoing. Authorities in Maryland and Virginia, along with local leaders, called for the committee to release its findings, and the committee soon yielded. Mr. Evans and Mr. Price later resigned, with Mr. Price citing a family matter and upcoming surgery as his reasons for leaving his role as a District voting representative on the board.

Mr. Evans also lost his role as the City Council's finance committee chair and is under investigation by the council and federal authorities. Email records show he flaunted his roles and record as the longest serving District lawmaker when pitching himself to local law firms, offering to use his connections and influence to benefit their clients. He also has accused of supporting projects and tax incentives involving clients. Federal agents searched his home in June just before he resigned from the transit board.

Two House Republicans sent a letter Monday to Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings asking for Mr. Evans to testify at the Thursday hearing. They wrote that Mr. Evans needs to be questioned, because he would effectively become a state legislator if D.C. were to become a state.

"As our Committee considers legislation concerning DC Statehood, the Committee must fully assess the cloud of scandal surrounding DC Councilmember Jack Evans," reads the letter by Reps. Jim Jordan, of Ohio, and Mark Meadows, of North Carolina.

According to the Post, the GOP request appears unlikely to be granted. Critics of D.C. statehood have long cited local corruption as a reason to deny the city congressional voting rights.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson decried the attempt to tie the two issues together at a news conference on Monday.

"In my view, that's not in any way disqualifying of whether citizens of the District should have full rights of citizenship and a vote for members of Congress," he said.

This story was reported by The Associated Press with information from The Washington Post. 

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