Biden raises politics, precedent for DC crime law pivots

Biden raises politics, precedent for DC crime law pivots

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden Support of the Republican resolution A move to block the new District of Columbia crime law has divided members of his own party amid concerns about crime in the nation’s capital and other cities.

The GOP-led disapproval measure is expected to easily pass the Senate on Wednesday with enough Democratic support. But most House Democrats Voted against it last monthThey have been arguing for years that the District of Columbia should be able to govern itself.

Democratic support for the resolution, which has seen murders rise in D.C. for several years, is a turnaround for Biden and his party and could allow Congress to overturn the city’s law through the impeachment process for the first time in more than three years. decade

Check out the politics and precedent of Wednesday’s Senate vote on D.C. crime legislation:

The new law of the district

The D.C. Council approved an overhaul of D.C.’s criminal code late last year after years of failed efforts. It would redefine crime, change criminal justice policy and rework how sentencing should be done after conviction. It would also eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for many crimes and reduce maximum sentences for theft, carjacking and robbery.

Mayor Muriel Bowser Vetoed the overhaul in January, wrote in a letter that he had “very significant concerns” about some of the bill’s proposals. He later proposed changes after the council overrode his veto. “Any time there’s a policy that reduces the penalty, I think it sends the wrong message,” he said.

In 2022, there were 203 homicides in the district, a decrease of about 10% after years of steady increases. Homicides in the city have risen for four consecutive years, and 227 homicides in 2021 were the highest since 2003. The city’s police union said in a statement that the changes could “prevent violent crime rates from exploding.”

Washington’s criminal code has not been significantly updated since it was first drafted in 1901, and criminal justice experts say black people are disproportionately affected by criminal laws. Like many other cities.

Gop pushback turns bipartisan

The new criminal code is due to come into effect in October 2025 But to become law, it must survive a 60-day review period during which Congress and the president can override it, thanks to a 1970s law called the Home Rule Act. . Although Congress has imposed various restrictions on DC through spending bills over the years, the formal disapproval process has not been used since 1991.

The new GOP majority in the House has made rising crime rates a political priority, with the House adopting a resolution of disapproval last month and voting 250-173 to repeal the D.C. criminal code overhaul, with 31 Democrats voting with Republicans. Most Democrats opposed the resolution, however, after the White House sent a policy statement opposing the legislation.

The White House has not made clear that Biden would veto the measure. But the statement said the White House opposed it and that the resolution was an example “of how the District of Columbia is being denied true self-government and why it deserves statehood. As we work to make Washington, D.C., our 51st state. Union, Congress The autonomy of the District of Columbia to manage its own local affairs should be respected.

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has repeatedly criticized Biden and Democrats for opposing the White House in anticipation of the Senate vote.

“Should we be soft on crime, as Democrats want at the local, state and federal levels?” McConnell said in February. “Or should we be tougher on crime, as Republicans and the American people want?

Biden’s pivot

As the Senate was expected to take up the bill, both Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., remained silent. Then at a Democratic caucus luncheon visit last week, the president surprised senators by announcing that he would sign the GOP resolution if it reached his desk.

“If you pass it, I will sign it,” Biden said in the private meeting.

It was not only a pivot to the D.C. measure after his administration opposed it, but a shift in Democrats’ longstanding position that the District of Columbia should govern itself and that the federal government should not step in to change its laws.

Biden later tweeted that he supports D.C. statehood, but “I don’t support some of the D.C. Council changes over the mayor’s objections — like lowering the fines for carjacking.”

Angry Democrats

Biden’s move – weeks before he announces his re-election campaign and Republicans have relentlessly criticized Democrats over the city’s crime rate – angered some House Democrats who opposed the measure after the White House initially opposed it.

“We need to make sure the Senate understands the full impact of local decision-making, especially for the District of Columbia that doesn’t have representation in that way,” said Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s nonvoting representative in the House, said the criminal law overhaul is “tremendously important” and the result of years of work by lawmakers, criminal justice experts and nonprofits that deal with criminals.

DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelsohn even announced Withdrawal of the Act A last ditch effort to thwart the Senate vote. But Democrats said the vote was on the House’s motion of disapproval, not the council’s original transmission to the Senate.

Some Democratic senators have indicated they will still vote against the resolution.

“Any attempt to move forward with this vote — it’s just a way to try to stop it in D.C.,” said Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

But Biden’s support appeared to win over his party’s majority in the Senate caucus — many of whom noted that Mayor Bowser opposed it.

“What we’ve heard from the mayor of D.C. is that there’s more work to be done,” said Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who said she would vote for the GOP measure.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said he would support it because “crime is rampant across the country.”

On Tuesday, Schumer announced that he, too, would vote for it.

“I’m going to vote yes,” Schumer told reporters. “It was a tough question, but on balance I’m voting yes.”


Associated Press writers Ashraf Khalil and Stephen Groves contributed to this report.

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