Mar 22, 2021

Washington D.C. becoming a state.

Washington D.C. becoming a state.

Plus, an apology about that email...

I’m Isaac Saul, and you’re reading Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone forwarded you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 12 minutes.

An apology about that email subscribers got (plus a huge announcement!), the debate over turning D.C. into a state and a reader question about the COVID-19 bill. Buckle up!

Photo Photo by Andrew Bossi / Flickr

An apology + an announcement...

If you’re a subscriber, you probably got an odd email today about giving away Tangle subscriptions. It was not supposed to go out until after this newsletter, but there was a tech flub on Substack’s end and it was sent out prematurely. I’d like to apologize. With that, plus the podcast email, subscribers now got three emails from me in 24 hours. That won’t ever happen again, as I try to never send more than one email in 24 hours.

Anyway, this is what I was going to say before that minor tech issue…

Today is a big day! After lots of chatter, Tangle is launching its first-ever rewards program. This is a chance for you to earn prizes simply by sending Tangle to your friends. We’re timing the program to try and get to 25,000 subscribers (we’re just shy of 21,000 now!) It’s a little different than how other places do it. Here’s how it works:

If you’re a subscriber, you are eligible to gift friends a Tangle subscription for one month. You can gift 10 subscriptions at a time and as many as you’d like. When you gift them the subscription, you leave them a personal note and they can choose to accept it or not. Every time one of your friends, family or colleagues accepts a subscription and gives Tangle a try, you get a “point.” Then it’s up to me to keep them around: When their one-month subscription ends, they’ll be asked to subscribe for real to keep reading — so they only stay on if they’re enjoying Tangle.

  • Whichever Tangle reader gets the most gifts accepted will receive a $200 gift card to a store of their choice.
  • Every Tangle reader who gifts even one subscription to a friend will be entered to win a $100 gift card. Every gift accepted is another entry.
  • Any readers who gift more than 20 subscriptions (that are accepted) will earn Tangle swag (shirts, mugs, stickers, etc.)

The one-year anniversary of Tangle’s paid subscription launch is mid-April. And we are nearing 25,000 subscribers. So we’re going to run this initial contest until then. Remember: You can only participate if you’re a paid subscriber. If you want to become one, you can do that here.

Gift Tangle and enter!

A note.

Last week, I reported that President Biden was selling a tax plan that would “increase taxes on anybody making more than $400,000,” which was the language Biden used. This implied, to me, individuals earning more than $400,000. But around the time the newsletter went out, Biden’s press secretary was pressed on the specifics and conceded that the tax increase was for families or households earning more than $400,000. Shoutout to my reader Brent, who pointed this out. There has now been substantial updated reporting on this, which you can find here.

Quick hits.

  1. The Biden administration has awarded an $86 million contract for hotel rooms at the border that will house 1,200 migrant families who cross the border. (Fox News)
  2. A study done by the U.S. has found that the AstraZeneca vaccine protects fully against COVID-19’s worst outcomes. (The New York Times) Meanwhile, the seven-day average of new coronavirus infections was up 2.6% on Sunday, the first rise in new cases in weeks. (The Washington Post)
  3. Miami Beach has declared a state of emergency and issued a curfew after spring breakers overwhelmed the city this week. (The Washington Post)
  4. Democrats are gearing up for a legal battle to take back an Iowa House seat that they lost by six votes. Congress has handled 110 such contested elections in 90 years, but the push creates a scenario where the “judge in this case is essentially the prosecutor.” (Politico)
  5. Former President Donald Trump is expected to endorse Rep. Jody Hice in her campaign to unseat Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Raffensperger is the Republican who oversaw Georgia’s elections and insisted that they were not stolen as President Trump baselessly alleged. (Politico)

What D.C. is talking about.

Washington D.C. statehood. The movement to grant the District of Columbia statehood is picking up steam, and today, H.R. 51 — legislation that would make that a reality — is the subject of a House Oversight Committee hearing. The bill was approved last year by the Democratic-led House but never reached the Senate floor. Because of Democrats’ slim majority in the Senate, it’s unlikely this legislation would become law without abolishing or modifying the 60-vote filibuster threshold, but Democrats are ramping up pressure nonetheless.

Currently, residents of Washington D.C. pay federal taxes but do not have voting representation in either the House or Senate  (this reality is controversially proclaimed on Washington D.C. license plates, which read “END TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION”). This bill would give the District’s residents full representation, with two senators and one voting House member (Eleanor Holmes Norton currently represents Washington D.C., but she does not get a vote in the House). Activists have framed the issue not only as one of basic fairness but also as one of racial justice, noting that the majority of Washington D.C.’s 700,000 residents — a larger population than that of either Wyoming or Vermont — are people of color.

H.R. 51 would make Washington D.C. a state by reducing the size of the federal district to a two-square-mile enclave of federal buildings that surrounds the White House, the Capitol building and the Supreme Court. The rest of the District would become the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Members of Douglass Commonwealth would keep their three electoral college votes in the presidential election and gain members of Congress.

Before this legislation slowly started moving through Congress, there hadn’t been a vote on D.C. statehood since 1993. The state of State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth would be the first state admitted to the U.S. since Hawaii in 1959.

We covered this issue in June when the House bill was initially passed, but will revisit it today with some new (and old) arguments.

What the left is saying.

The left supports D.C. statehood, arguing that Washington D.C.’s residents are disenfranchised, that the Senate is over-represented by a substantial minority of Republican voters and that it’s time to move past a relic of the founders.

In November, The Washington Post editorial board said “If you oppose D.C. statehood, you need to explain why it is acceptable to deprive 705,000 citizens of their rights to full representation in their government.”

“U.S. citizens — no matter their party affiliation — deserve to be fully represented in Congress. The population of D.C. is larger than that of Wyoming or Vermont, D.C. residents pay more in federal taxes than those living in 22 states, and Washingtonians live up to all their responsibilities as citizens, including going to war to serve their country. Yet they are denied a voice in Congress. Republicans know that is just plain wrong. But just as they have sought to hold onto their power by systematically making it harder for people to vote, so are they willing to play politics with the civil rights of the U.S. citizens who live in D.C.”

Colbert King said the key question about D.C. statehood is whether we believe in the “consent of the governed” or not.

“Our current lack of representation, however, is not matched by the lack of taxation. In fact, taxation of D.C. residents is unmatched in the country,” he added. “We pay the highest per capita federal taxes in the United States. Twenty-two other states pay less in total federal taxes than D.C. residents. But we — a jurisdiction of 712,000 people — are muzzled from having a say about how our tax dollars are spent.

“But there’s more to the injustice than the lack of voting representation on the Hill,” he said. “Under the current limited form of D.C. home rule, the mayor and council cannot control their own budget. Neither can they alone make city laws. Congress must approve spending of every dollar raised with our own D.C. taxes. Legislation passed by the D.C. Council and signed by the mayor cannot take effect without congressional approval. The president nominates and the Senate confirms D.C.’s local judges. D.C. law enforcement is directed by the Justice Department, not a D.C. attorney general.”

In USA Today, Jamal Holtz said “D.C. statehood affects everyone.”

“If you are an American who strives to see a more representative Senate — a body that in its 232 years has only had 11 Black senators— then you care about forming the only state that would have a plurality of Black residents,” he said. “If you care about racial justice, then you care about granting full voting rights to Black Americans. If you care about issues everyday Americans are facing, then you care about having two more votes in the Senate for civil rights, gun violence prevention, environmental justice, economic equity and more issues that affect communities across the country.”

What the right is saying.

The right opposes statehood for Washington D.C., arguing that it’s a clear Senate power grab, and offers a move back to being part of Maryland for D.C. as a solution to give voters representation.

“The District of Columbia — our national capital district, named for Christopher Columbus — has only once in its history, barely in 1972, given 20 percent of its presidential vote to a Republican,” the editors of the National Review wrote in June. “Its local government has been wholly dominated by the Democratic Party for all of living memory. Agitation for D.C. statehood is about partisan advantage, no more and no less… The 23rd Amendment, passed by Congress at the urging of Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy in 1960, gave D.C. the votes in presidential elections that it would have as a state. But it defines D.C. as a permanent constitutional entity of its own, outside of statehood.

“On the merits of the proposal, it is difficult to see how the people of D.C. are oppressed, easy to see how their influence is already disproportionate, and easier than ever to see why the federal government would be imperiled by subjecting its physical security to District authorities,” they wrote. “True, the Founding Fathers did not anticipate a time when the federal district would have more residents than Vermont. But early Americans also never conceived a time when the federal government would spend 4.5 trillion dollars a year and employ more people in D.C. alone than the entire populations of Syracuse or Dayton.”

In The Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby argued that “it’s not by accident or oversight that the nation’s capital isn’t a state: The Founding Fathers wrote it into the Constitution.”

Article I, Section 8 provides explicitly for a national capital that would not be part of a state nor treated as a state, but rather a unique enclave under the exclusive authority of Congress — a neutral ‘district’ in which representatives of all the states could meet on an equal footing to conduct the nation’s business,” he said.

“Reasonable people can disagree on the wisdom or fairness of the framers’ plan, but the only way to change it is to amend the Constitution,” he added. “That’s exactly what happened in 1961, when the 23rd Amendment was ratified and D.C. residents were granted the right to vote in presidential elections and participate in the Electoral College. In 1978 Congress passed another amendment, giving the District of Columbia seats in the Senate and the House, but only 16 states ratified it. It may frustrate Washingtonians to be denied the perquisites of statehood on Capitol Hill, but Americans plainly have not wanted to change the Constitution to make that happen.”

Cato Institute scholar Walter Olson has advocated that Washington D.C. “retrocede” to Maryland.

“Maryland retrocession was long dismissed as politically impractical, perhaps because of reluctance in the Old Line State to accept the deal, but those calculations might reasonably begin to shift now that the capital city has grown exceedingly prosperous (thus making it a better fiscal bet) and has politics that no longer diverge as spectacularly from those of its neighbors to the north as in the days of former Mayor Marion Barry,” Olson wrote.

“D.C. statehood proposals, understandably popular among capital city residents, would launch the fledgling 51st state near the top of the rankings [of over-represented states], enjoying a degree of overrepresentation comparable only to Vermont, Wyoming, and perhaps one or two other states,” he added. “Both the expanded and the current Maryland, by contrast, come out close to the middle of the pack, somewhere around 16th or 19th in rank. The Douglass County idea, or something similar, would as a result not materially worsen the practical disparity between big and small state representation complained of by Senate critics.”

My take.

The difficulty with this issue is just how clear the political repercussions of it are. There is no doubt — zero — that adding Washington D.C. as a state would be a tremendous boon for liberal policies and Democrats in Congress. That simple fact poisons the well of the debate before anyone can even begin to feign intellectual independence, and leaves everyone’s position on the matter as predictable as possible.

As I’ve written previously, that D.C. statehood is a power grab is not an argument that should stop it from happening. Every single time a state has been added, or one state has been divided (in the case of the two Dakotas!) politics have been at play. Even if Democrats were to somehow overcome the odds and make D.C. a state, Republicans would still be more well represented on a population basis in the Senate. By 2040, one University of Virginia study estimates that half the country will live in eight states and 30% of the population will control 68% of the U.S. Senate. That’s just the data — if Republicans are concerned about over-representation they’d need to start unwinding their own power.

For me, I’m working from the premise that it’s simply unacceptable 700,000 people do not get a voice in Congress. It’s un-American, illogical, and broken, and it’s proof that as brilliant as our founders were they didn’t prepare for everything. As the Wall Street Journal noted, Congress has used its power over D.C. to stop “the use of city funds on a variety of measures, including providing abortions to low-income women and regulating the legal sale of marijuana. Democratic lawmakers more recently complained that the city’s nonstate status cut its level of access to federal aid in a coronavirus relief package.” It’s being held prisoner by a voting body that does not represent its residents.

There are still some problems Democrats still need to solve for. For starters, the constitutionality of this bill is going to be challenged. But there’s also practical questions: What happens to the people left over in the tiny, microscopic Washington D.C. created when the rest of it becomes Douglass County? The 23rd amendment still grants it three electoral college votes, which means the few hundred reminaing citizens will now have absurd representation. That requires a Constitutional amendment to undo. If they can manage a Constitutional amendment to do that, then why not amend the Constitution to make D.C. a state in the first place?

Liberals also continue to avoid the intellectual argument of retrocession. In June, when I wrote about this, I advocated for that solution. I’ve still only found one logical case against it buried in a Los Angeles Times editorial, which essentially made the point that it would take D.C. from no voice to a minor voice in a state with an established political base. But if D.C. residents were part of Maryland and had a limited voice in a state with an established political base, they’d be just like urban voters anywhere else. Cities of comparable size to D.C. like Denver, Seattle, Boston, El Paso, Nashville and Detroit all live at the whims of state governors and their federal representatives, too.

If our issues are representation in Congress, and voters having control over their own fate, and the absurdity a city population larger than two states not being represented, but our concern is that by making that city a state it’d become a “freak” addition where  one in four jobs are federally employed and the median household income is 136.9 percent the rest of the country, why not just return D.C. to Maryland?

The biggest hurdle is that both D.C. residents and Maryland residents hate the idea. Which — hey, that’s not insignificant. If the idea is to give D.C. residents representation but they don’t feel represented by being swallowed up by an already established state government, that’s a fair argument. And it’s made more fair by Maryland not wanting to play ball at all. But it’s an emotional response, not an intellectual one about solving the problem of voters having House and Senate representation in a way that makes geographical sense.

D.C. statehood would not “unfair” or create an “over-represented” Senate in favor of Democrats. It’s also completely reasonable for D.C. residents to be pursuing statehood given their current existence as second-class citizens. Making D.C. its own state would be more democratic and more appealing than what we have now. But reincorporating D.C. back into Maryland would be a better solution than either.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Republican politicians keep citing a statistic of approximately 9% I believe of the recent stimulus bill being the amount that’s going for Covid relief. And that everything else is targeted towards something else. This seems like a highly inaccurate number but I have not seen it challenged or explained by any of them. What is your take on it?

— Martin, Fresno, California

Tangle: Funny enough, I actually just covered this in Friday’s subscriber-only edition.

The short answer is that I don’t think it’s a very honest argument. 9% of the bill went to COVID-19 relief only if your definition of COVID-19 relief is strictly funding for things like vaccines and PPE. That would exclude unemployment, stimulus checks, aid to states, and all sorts of other provisions that I think are clearly tied to coronavirus (like supporting businesses who had to shut down during the pandemic).

That’s not to say there isn’t pork in the latest bill. As I wrote on Friday, there’s plenty. But I think the vast majority of the bill can reasonably be tied to coronavirus relief, even if there are plenty of arguments that such relief is no longer needed at the levels it was given. In February, the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said 85% of the bill would be focused primarily on pandemic relief, while about 15% — still $300 billion — would be spent on long-standing policy priorities not related to the current crisis.

They are a fairly balanced organization, and I think their ruling — even if it’s off by a huge margin — illustrates that the 9% claim is disingenuous.

Have a question you want to be answered? Just reply to this email and write in — or fill out this form.

A story that matters.

This year’s tax season is going to be one of the most complex ever, and some accountants still don’t have guidance on what they should do to handle new tax laws. Changes to the tax code are impacting everything from child care tax credit to health care costs — and they’ve come at a time when Americans have lost their jobs in droves and with them, their health insurance. At the same time, those Americans have received government checks and unemployment benefits that further complicate their tax status. The IRS has already granted an extra month to file taxes, but it may not be enough. (Axios)


A new Franklin Templeton-Gallup survey is out that shows a startling misunderstanding of COVID-19 amongst the American public. In the survey, pollsters asked Americans about COVID-19, and then compared their answers to the actual data. Here were some of the more surprising findings:

  • On average, Americans believe that people aged 55 and older account for just over half of total COVID-19 deaths; the actual figure is 92%.
  • Americans overestimate the risk of death from COVID-19 for people aged 24 and younger by a factor of 50; and they think the risk for people aged 65 and older is half of what it actually is (40% vs 80%).

The misunderstandings existed across party lines, though Republicans and Democrats had more accurate beliefs depending on which age bracket was being discussed:

Results from this study are based on self-administered web surveys from an opt-in sample provided by Dynata of 10,014 US adults, aged 18 or older.


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Have a nice day.

Six years ago, a West London pub built in the 1920s was demolished by developers who thought they could successfully skirt the law, pay a fine, and turn the pub into a new project. But locals who loved the Carlton Tavern banded together and waged a successful legal battle to hold the developers accountable, and now the pub is being rebuilt “brick by brick” back to its original form. The reopening of the restored pub will be on April 12th, the day after COVID-19 restrictions are set to be lifted in England. “People said it was impossible,” Polly Robertson, a leading member of the Rebuild the Carlton Tavern campaign, told The Guardian. “Many people said, ‘Polly, it’s not worth it, nothing’s going to happen’. And I just thought, no – I’m not going to let it lie.”

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