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Rep. Johnson introduces bill to return portions of D.C. to Maryland
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Rep. Johnson introduces bill to return portions of D.C. to Maryland

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South Dakota's U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson has reintroduced legislation that would cede the majority of land and population of Washington, D.C., back to the state of Maryland, something he says is a compromise bill instead of granting statehood to the federal district.

During a news conference Thursday, Johnson, a Republican, said the District of Columbia-Maryland Reunion Act would keep the area around the National Mall and federal buildings as part of the federal district, but would return those areas back to Maryland.

“It removes the need for D.C. statehood, while also providing representation to individuals living in the district by merging the suburbs with Maryland," Johnson said. "This proposal isn’t out of the question. Congress has done it before in 1847 when large parts of D.C. were returned to Virginia. My proposal accomplishes the goal of representation without creating a 51st state — that’s compromise.”

During a Friday meeting at the Journal, Johnson said even though he represents South Dakota, the U.S. Constitution mandates Congress to make laws and regulations related to the District of Columbia.

"When you read Article I (of the Constitution), it lays out the things that I have to care about, and one of those bullet points is the management of the District of Columbia," he said. "I think the Constitution makes it clear that this is something I should care about and I take that responsibility seriously."

Johnson is referring to Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which lays out the responsibility of Congress to "exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be."

Johnson's push to legislate changes to the land area of Washington, D.C., and return it to Maryland is in response to moves within Congress among Democrats to grant statehood to the district. President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have both expressed support for making D.C the 51st state.

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If statehood were granted, the district would receive voting representation in the House instead of just one non-voting delegate. Statehood would also add two members to the U.S. Senate, something Republicans oppose for the heavily Democratic District of Columbia.

Johnson said if portions of D.C. were to be ceded back to Maryland, the residents would gain the right to vote for seats in the Senate and have a voting member of the House. He said Washington, D.C., is not a state and that people cannot "reasonably articulate that it is, but for the political angle."

"What I'm trying to do is, admittedly, call out the hypocrisy because the rallying cry of D.C. statehood is for suffrage," Johnson said. "The fact that everyone who screams for D.C. statehood seems to hate my bill, I think proves that they are not all that interested in suffrage for D.C. residents."

Johnson said he has not spoken to Maryland's Republican Gov. Larry Hogan about the proposal. He also acknowledged that the bill is not popular for residents of D.C., but said his measure is a compromise.

"It's not just me trying to troll the left. I also try to find third-way solutions, and if we really want those residents (of D.C.) to be able to vote — I think my bill is the only common sense way to accomplish that desire," Johnson said.

Following the tumultuous 2020 presidential election and subsequent riot at the U.S. Capitol, Johnson said he voted to certify the election results, but there are still serious questions that need to be answered about voting procedures in some states.

Johnson was clear Friday when he told the Journal he feels it is not Congress' duty to overturn an election. Under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, he said Congress only acts as a witness to the state's certification of results. If there is evidence alleging voter fraud, they should be handled by the courts, he said.

Johnson said there are four things that he is concerned about related to the 2020 election — voter irregularities, looking for evidence of widespread fraud, flexibilities that some states took because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and some state election laws that allow for universal mail-in balloting.

"I think there are lots of very serious concerns," Johnson said. "The Constitution doesn't give me that power (to overturn an election). I'm not provided the authority to be the super judge over how Pennsylvania does their elections. There are times I wished I was in charge of everything. But if I'm going to be a principled conservative, I have to accept the limitations of my Constitutional power — even when I don't like it."

Contact Nathan Thompson at nathan.thompson@rapidcityjournal.com.

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