The House has voted for the first time to rectify one of the most counterintuitive quirks of American democracy:
People living in the national capital have less of a voice in the national government than all the rest of the nation — consigned to the same second-class status, taxation without representation, which sparked the Revolution that created the country.
Legislation to change that, by making the District of Columbia the 51st state, was approved 232-180 on Friday, the only passage of such a statehood measure by either chamber in the history of Congress.
But the almost purely party-line tally in the Democratic House will be the proposal's symbolically resonant high-water mark, at least for the year. That's because the Republican Senate had made plain it has zero interest in the measure, even before President Trump made explicit this week that he would veto it.
Puerto Rico will vote on whether to seek statehood or independence in November, the latest ballot measure posing a fundamental question about the future of American democracy.
The outcome of the referendum will compel the island's government to negotiate with Washington the details of one of those options for ending a system in place for 70 years: Puerto Ricans are American citizens who are exempt from federal income taxes and have significant local autonomy, but in return they get much less federal aid than the states and have no electoral votes or voting members of Congress.
The referendum is ultimately non-binding because Congress and the president would have to agree to end Puerto Rico's current commonwealth arrangement. But the result will still send a signal about the desires of Americans now lacking full democratic rights – and could intensify or deflate momentum for statehood in Washington, D.C.
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