By now, you're probably fairly familiar with John Oliver and his brand of witty, scathing, and always on-point commentary on American and international affairs. He will say things and go places nobody else will, but you know he must be really unhappy about a situation when he sings about it. On this Sunday night's episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver addressed D.C.'s lack of voting rights in Congress, and even sang in honor of the city. It's a little out of the ordinary for the news host to croon on camera, but then again, so is not giving your country's capital any representation in ... your country's capital.
Oliver opens the segment with some clips from songs about the 50 American states, which is foreshadowing what's to come later. But before that, he sets up just why D.C.'s lack of voting rights in Congress is an issue. Essentially, residents of D.C., who pay federal taxes and fight in wars just like the rest of America, have no representative in Congress who can vote on their behalf. In fact, we're the only democracy in the world that denies our capital such fundamental rights, and even the Dalai Lama has called us out on the odd sitch.
It is not good when a guy from Tibet says, "Wow, this situation is really undemocratic."
To be fair, though, D.C. does have one representative in Congress: Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton. But Oliver points out that she's nothing more than a figurehead. She can't actually vote on the House floor on important issues like taxes and war. All she really has, Oliver says, is "pretend power -- like a child watching Dora the Explorer." This is ironic, and painfully tragic, because as another clip of Norton shows, the woman is badass, declaring to an opposing member of Congress, "I yield you no ground!"
So how did D.C. end up with its powerless status? It all boils down to the U.S. Constitution, which states that Congress has the power to exercise exclusive legislation over federal districts.
As far as documents demanding control go, it's right up there with the one Christian Grey asked Anastasia Steele to sign in Fifty Shades of Grey.What's even more ludicrous about the situation is that D.C. residents couldn't even vote in presidential elections until the 1960s, when a Constitutional amendment gave them that right. In 1966, Congress granted residents the right to elect a mayor and city council, but required all legislation be subject to their approval. Nowadays, the way Congress maintains control over legislation is with the use of riders that they attach to D.C.'s appropriations bills, denying them funding for anything it disagrees with.
For example? In November, 70 percent of D.C. residents voted to legalize marijuana, a move that many Washingtonians were ecstatic about. But then Republicans in Congress interfered and passed a rider forbidding the city from using their funds to enact the law.
Providing clean needles to drug users is not the same as putting out a bowl of chips at a party. No one sees a needle exchange and thinks, "Well, I had no intention of ever taking heroin, but seeing as you've offered, you know what, don't mind if I do!"Here's the disturbing part: That rider yielded some very real consequences. In the nine years that the needle exchange program was denied, more than 1,500 drug users were diagnosed with HIV in the city. And in the years since the program has been allowed, the number of injection drug-related HIV diagnoses has gone down by 87 percent, Oliver points out. And it makes total sense.
Try and think of needles as bridesmaids dresses. Anyone who tells you you can reuse them does not have your best interest at heart.What's perhaps even more sad is that D.C. came this close to getting its own voting representative in Congress. In 2009, a bill asking for exactly that was introduced in the Senate, and the Senate "did the most dickish thing imaginable": It attached an amendment to the bill that would have repealed all of D.C.'s gun control laws, including a ban on semiautomatic weapons. As a result of the ridiculous amendment, the bill was dropped.
This perpetually oppressive relationship between Congress and D.C. would be forced to end if D.C. achieved statehood, but as a Congressional hearing on D.C. statehood from last year showed, that's not likely to happen. Only two members of the Senate committee showed up for the hearing.
Only two turned up. That's not just a pathetic attendance for a hearing on Capitol Hill — that would be pathetic for a one-year-old's birthday party.Oliver predicts objections people might have against D.C. statehood, like resistance over changing the flag, but he points out that he's been showing a 51-star flag for the whole segment, and "none of you have f*****g noticed." But what about all those songs that we learned as children, the ones that Oliver played in the beginning of the segment? Well, he's got a solution for that, too: