Biden Upends Politics, Precedent In Pivot On DC Crime Law

Biden Upends Politics, Precedent In Pivot On DC Crime Law

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden's support of a Republican resolution to block new crime laws in the District of Columbia has divided his party amid growing concerns about crime in the nation's capital and other cities.

The GOP-led veto is expected to pass easily in the Senate on Wednesday with broad Democratic support. But most House Democrats voted against it last month, saying, as they have for years, that the District of Columbia should be able to govern itself.

Democratic support for the resolution, billed as a killing spree in Washington, DC, has been on the rise for several years, is a game-changer for Biden and his party, and could allow Congress to repeal city ordinances. the first time in more than three years. contracts

A look at the politics and precedent of Wednesday's Senate vote on DC's criminal laws:

New provincial laws

The DC Penal Code overhaul was approved by the DC Council late last year after years of failed efforts. It will change the definition of crimes, change criminal justice policy and reform post-conviction sentencing procedures. It would also eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for many crimes and reduce the maximum sentences for burglary, auto theft and theft.

Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the bill in January, writing in a letter that she had "very serious concerns" about some of the bill's proposals. He then proposed changes after the board overturned his veto. "Anytime there's a policy that reduces fines, I think it sends the wrong signal," he said.

There were 203 murders in the country in 2022, down 10% after several years of steady growth. The city's homicide rate has risen for four consecutive years, reaching 227 in 2021, the highest rate since 2003. The city's police union said in a statement that the changes "will lead to increased violent crime." even more than it already is.

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Washington's penal code has not been significantly modernized since it was first written in 1901, and criminal justice experts say blacks have been disproportionately affected by penal laws, as they have been in many other cities.


The new penal code is scheduled to enter into force in October 2025. But to become law, it must go through a 60-day review period, during which Congress and the president can overturn it, through a 1970 law called Home Rule. Deed. . Although Congress has placed various restrictions on the District of Columbia through spending bills over the years, no formal denial process has been used since 1991.

As the new House GOP majority made increasing crime a political priority, the House passed a resolution last month, voting 250-173 to strike down the amendments to the law. DC Criminal Court, with 31 Democrats voting with Republicans. However, most Democrats opposed the decision after the White House issued a political statement against the law.

The White House did not specifically say that Biden would veto the measure. But the statement says the White House opposes it and that the decision is an example of "how the District of Columbia continues to deny true home rule and why it deserves statehood." And as we work to make Washington, DC, the 51st state of our union, Congress must respect DC's autonomy in managing its local affairs.

While awaiting a vote in the Senate, Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky repeatedly criticized Biden and Democrats for taking on the White House.

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Should we go soft on crime, as the Democrats want, at the local, state and federal level? McConnell said in February. Or should we get tougher on crime, as the Republicans and Americans want?

biden pivot

As the bill was expected to pass the Senate, Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DNY, remained silent. Then, at a dinner for Democrats last week, the president surprised senators by saying he would sign the Republican resolution if it reached his desk.

"If I accept it, I will sign it," Biden said in a private meeting.

Not only was this a reversal of DC's actions after his administration objected, but it was also a reversal of the longstanding Democratic position that DC should govern itself and that the federal government should not interfere to change its laws .

Biden later tweeted that he supports statehood in DC, but "I don't support some of the changes the DC council made over the mayor's objections, like lowering car theft fines."

bad democrats

Biden's decision, weeks before he announced his re-election campaign and Republicans viciously attacked Democrats over the city's crime rate, angered some House Democrats who opposed the move after the White House initially opposed it.

"We need to make sure the Senate understands all the implications of closing local decision-making, especially for the District of Columbia, which does not have such representation," said Stephen Horsford, president of the Black Congress.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, a non-voting House representative, said the revision of the criminal code is "very important" and is the result of years of work by lawmakers, criminal justice experts, officials and nonprofit organizations dedicated to criminals.

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DC President Phil Mendelsohn even announced the withdrawal of the bill in a last ditch effort to derail the Senate vote. But Democrats said the vote was on a resolution the House rejected, not the initial transfer from the House to the Senate.

Some Democratic senators have made it clear they will continue to vote against the resolution.

Elizabeth Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, said that "any attempt to advance this vote is simply an attempt to trample the District of Columbia."

But Biden's endorsement appeared to be backed by most senators from his party, many of whom noted that Mayor Bowser was opposed.

"We heard from the sheriff of the District of Columbia that there is still a lot of work to be done," said Debbie Stabenow, a senator from Michigan, who said she would vote for the Republican measure.

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said he would support him because "crime is rampant across the country."

Schumer announced on Tuesday that he would vote for him as well.

"I will vote in favor," Schumer told reporters. "It was a tough question, but overall I vote yes."


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

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