Even though the issue boasts a historic amount of Democratic support in the Senate, it won’t succeed without Manchin’s support in the closely divided chamber and with the existence of the legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass the legislation.
Some Democrats who support the bill have conceded that it is not a top priority and said they are taking a more pragmatic approach and focusing on issues such as infrastructure.
Before the House voted on the bill last Thursday, which passed 216-208, Manchin had said that he was “still discussing it,” adding that he had a lot of other things going on.
In the radio interview, he said that he had since taken a “deep dive” with his staff, looking at conclusions reached by the Justice Department under the Carter and Reagan administrations, as well as comments from then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy. They all determined that D.C. statehood would require a constitutional amendment, he said.
Manchin cited the 23rd Amendment — which granted D.C. residents the right to vote, as well as Electoral College votes — as something that complicates the path to statehood, because lawmakers at the time opted against the idea. He added that taking congressional action would likely result in a Supreme Court challenge.
“Every legal scholar has told us that, so why not do it the right way and let the people vote to see if they want to change?” he said.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who has championed the legislation as D.C.’s sole voice on Capitol Hill, said that Congress could grant D.C. statehood without repealing the 23rd Amendment — something Manchin did not explicitly call for — and had the full authority to do so.
“Those who make such an assertion are conflating a policy choice and a constitutional requirement,” she said in a statement Friday.
Despite Manchin’s opposition, a spokesperson for Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the lead author of the Senate bill, said in a statement the senator remained “actively engaged with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and is confident this can reach the finish line by the end of this Congress.”
“With a record amount of Senate cosponsors and support from the House and White House, Senator Carper feels that the stars are aligning to right this historic injustice,” the spokesperson said.