News & Politics

Watch John Oliver Make the Case for DC Statehood

District residents are all-too-familiar with the limited brand of democracy that the nation’s capital is entitled to, and now so does the audience of HBO’s Last Week Tonight. John Oliver used last night’s episode to take up the DC statehood cause, culminating in a chorus of singing, blue-tongued children.

Oliver’s 17-minute feature on the District’s lack of representation in Congress shows Last Week Tonight‘s usual meticulous research, hitting on many recent examples of DC’s local agenda getting railroaded by meddlesome legislators from far-flung jurisdictions. Among the incidents featured are the attempts to block marijuana legalization, restrictions on using city funds to pay for abortions for low-income women, and prevention of a needle-exchange program to combate the city’s HIV infection rate.

The segment also goes all the way back to the drafting of the Constitution, too, with Oliver comparing the clause reading that Congress has the right to “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” in the nation’s capital to a rough-sex arrangement. “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 before he, I don’t know, pinched her butt, or whatever,” Oliver says.

Oliver also has sharp words for House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, who as the District’s Capitol Hill overseer, has often been mealymouthed in explaining why his passion for states’ rights stops at DC’s boundaries. “States’ rights yes, but Washington, DC is not a state,” Chaffetz told CNN in February.

To that, Oliver says: “You know you have a weak argument when you’re clinging to the precise wording you use. Hey, I said I wouldn’t fuck any other women. This is my squash mate, Gary.”

After conceding that the most recent congressional hearing on DC statehood only attracted two senators’ brief attention, Oliver resorts to a potentially more powerful form of advocacy than anything voting-rights organization DC Vote has ever cooked up: a bunch of children singing the song that alphabetizes the names of the states, but rewritten to include the District’s situation. Some choice lyrics include:

  • “There are 50 states in total and we’ll sing their names with glee/But there’s one place they get shafted, and it’s Washington DC.”
  • “All the rest of us can choose a path that we think is best/But any choice that DC makes is easily supressed.”
  • “‘Cause some asshole with a rider who might live in Tennessee/Can destroy a needle program for preventing HIV.”
  • “Let them have gun laws, let them have weed!/Let them decide the things that they need!”
  • “And if you’re totally convinced that there should be just 50 states/Well then let’s all kick out Florida ’cause no one thinks they’re great.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.