President Joe Biden’s support of a Republican resolution to block new crime laws in the District of Columbia has divided members of his own party amid rising concerns about crime in the nation’s capital and other cities.
The GOP-led impeachment resolution is expected to easily pass the Senate on Wednesday with ample Democratic support. But most House Democrats voted against it last month, arguing that the District of Columbia should be able to govern itself, as they have for years.
The Democratic support for the resolution, which comes as the homicide rate in D.C. has increased for several years, is a shift for Biden and his party and could allow Congress to pass the city’s laws through the censure process for the first time in annulled for more than three years. decades.
A look at the politics and precedent of Wednesday’s Senate vote on D.C. crime laws:
THE NEW LAWS OF THE DISTRICT
The D.C. Penal Code revision was approved by the D.C. Council late last year after years of failed attempts. It would redefine crimes, change criminal justice policy and rethink how sentences should be handed down after convictions. It would also remove mandatory minimum sentences for many crimes and lower maximum sentences for burglary, carjacking and robbery.
Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the revision in January, writing in a letter that she had “very serious concerns” about some of the bills. She later proposed changes after the council overrode its veto. “Any time there’s a policy that reduces penalties, I think it sends the wrong message,” she said.
In 2022, there were 203 homicides in the precinct, down about 10% after years of steady increases. The city’s homicide rate had risen for four straight years and the homicide rate in 2021 was the highest since 2003 at 227. The city’s police union said in a statement that changes “would cause the violent crime rate to explode even more than now whatever the case”.
Washington’s penal code hasn’t been substantially updated since it was first drafted in 1901, and criminal justice experts say black people have been disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system, as they are in many other cities.
GOP PUSHBACK TURNS TWO
The new Penal Code will come into force in October 2025. But to become law, it must pass a 60-day review period for Congress and the president to override it, thanks to a 1970s law called the Home Rule Act. . While Congress has imposed various limits on D.C. through bills over the years, the formal censure process has not been used since 1991.
As the new GOP majority in the House made rising crime rates a political priority, the House passed the censure resolution last month, voting 250-173 to overturn D.C.’s criminal justice revisions, with 31 Democrats voting with Republicans . However, most Democrats opposed the resolution, after the White House sent a policy statement opposing the legislation.
The White House did not explicitly say Biden would veto the measure. But the statement said the White House opposed it and that the resolution is an example “of how the District of Columbia continues to be denied true self-government and why it deserves statehood. As we work to make Washington, D.C. the 51st state, of our Union, Congress should respect the autonomy of the District of Columbia to manage its own local affairs.”
Ahead of a Senate vote, Republican leader Mitch McConnell repeatedly criticized R-Ky., Biden and Democrats over White House opposition.
“Should we soften crime, as the Democrats want, at the local, state and federal levels?” McConnell said in February. Or should we crack down on crime, as the Republicans and the American people want?
BIDEN’S TURNING PIPE
As the Senate was expected to pass the bill, both Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., remained silent. While attending a Democratic caucus luncheon last week, the president surprised senators by declaring that he would sign the GOP resolution if it reached his desk.
“If you approve it, I’ll sign it,” Biden said during the closed meeting.
It was not just a linchpin to the DC measure after his administration opposed it, but a shift in the Democrats’ longstanding position that the District of Columbia should govern itself and that the federal government should not step in to to change its laws.
Biden later tweeted that he supports the state of DC, but “I don’t support some of the changes that the DC Council has brought forward over the mayor’s objections — like lowering carjacking penalties.”
Biden’s move — coming weeks before he will announce his re-election campaign, and as Republicans have relentlessly criticized Democrats for the city’s crime rate — enraged some House Democrats who opposed the measure after the White House initially opposed it.
“We need to make sure the Senate understands the full effect of taking away local decision-making, especially for the District of Columbia that is not represented in that way,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chair Representative Steven Horsford, D-Nev .
Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s non-voting delegate in the House, said the criminal justice overhaul was “extremely important” and the culmination of years of work by lawmakers, criminal justice experts and offender nonprofits.
D.C. Council President Phil Mendelson even announced the repeal of the bill in a last-ditch effort to thwart the Senate vote. But Democrats said the vote was on the House’s censure resolution, not the original transfer from the council to the Senate.
Some Democratic senators indicated they would still vote against the resolution.
“Any attempt to go through with this vote — it’s just a way to overrun DC,” Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren said.
But Biden’s support appeared to win over his party’s Senate Majority vote — many of whom pointed out that Mayor Bowser opposed it.
“What we’ve heard from the mayor of DC is there’s more work to be done,” said Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, who said she will vote in favor of the GOP measure.
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said he would support it because “crime is rampant across the country.”
On Tuesday, Schumer announced he would also vote for it.
“I’m going to vote yes,” Schumer told reporters. “It was a tough question, but on balance I vote yes.”
Associated Press writers Ashraf Khalil and Stephen Groves contributed to this report.