Mitch McConnell is in a fighting mood. The Senate majority leader is still the most awkward communicator in American politics this side of Calvin Coolidge, but McConnell is doing his best to amp up his rhetoric as the 2020 election approaches. In fairness to the Republican from Kentucky, he has embraced an apt metaphor for his service: that of the grim reaper.
After Nancy Pelosi referred to the Senate as “McConnell’s Graveyard”—with a poster illustrating popular proposals that have been approved by the House but that languish in the upper chamber—the Kentuckian boasted to a friendly Fox News audience: “I am indeed the grim reaper when it comes to the socialist agenda that they’ve been ginning up over in the House with overwhelming Democratic support and sending it over to America, things that would turn us into a country we’ve never been.”
McConnell ran through the usual litany of “socialist agenda” items: providing sick people with medical care, protecting the planet from the existential threat posed by climate change, training people for jobs in the new economy. But then he upped the ante with a new danger: statehood.
“They plan to make the District of Columbia a state and give them two Democratic senators,” the majority leader declared, in the most agitated voice he has mustered since he blasted Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren for persisting in reading a letter from Coretta Scott King that decried racially motivated voter suppression. McConnell ominously suggested that members of the House might also try to “make Puerto Rico a state” in a move that “would give them two more Democratic senators.”
Adding stars to the American flag cannot be allowed, argues McConnell, who claims that “this is full bore socialism on the march in the House, and, yeah, as long as I am majority leader in the Senate, none of that stuff is going anywhere.”
Strong language there, Mitch.
But if statehood for DC and Puerto Rico is full-bore socialism, then socialism really in on the march—right into McConnell’s own partisan ranks. The 2016 Republican Party Platform states:
We support the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state. We further recognize the historic significance of the 2012 local referendum in which a 54 percent majority voted to end Puerto Rico’s current status as a U.S. territory, and 61 percent chose statehood over options for sovereign nationhood. We support the federally sponsored political status referendum authorized and funded by an Act of Congress in 2014 to ascertain the aspirations of the people of Puerto Rico. Once the 2012 local vote for statehood is ratified, Congress should approve an enabling act with terms for Puerto Rico’s future admission as the 51st state of the Union.
That’s been the Republican stance since the 1940s, and it is embraced by at least some Republican members of the US House and the US Senate. Americans from across the partisan and ideological spectrum have recognized that the neglect and exploitation that Puerto Rico has suffered might be lessened if it had a couple of US senators. (There may even be a few Grand Old Partiers who recognize that, if statehood is a socialist plot, then existing states—perhaps even Kentucky—could be suspect.)
It is true that the GOP 2016 platform is not so enthusiastic as it once was about making sure that DC has a full voice in Congress. In 1976, the party platform hailed “the principle of self-determination” and endorsed “giving the District of Columbia voting representation in the United States Senate and House of Representatives”—the change that McConnell expressly fears. But the current Republican platform does declare, with regard to US territories and commonwealths, that “We welcome their greater participation in all aspects of the political process and affirm their right to seek the full extension of the Constitution with all the rights and responsibilities that entails.”
The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and other parts of the United States that are not accorded full congressional representation do, indeed, deserve avenues for “greater participation in all aspects of the political process.” If the people of the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico want statehood, they should have it. If other models are chosen, so be it. But the basic premise that US citizens should be represented in the House and Senate by voting members is not radical.
McConnell may imagine that expanding the size of the House and Senate is “full-bore socialism.” But to believe the majority leader, you must believe that Richard Nixon was a fellow traveler. After all, it was Nixon who told Congress in 1969, “It should offend the democratic sense of this nation that the 850,000 citizens of its Capitol, comprising a population larger than 11 of its states, have no voice in the Congress.”