Biden says he would sign GOP resolution blocking D.C. crime overhaul
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Washington — President Biden told Senate Democrats that he will not veto a Republican-backed resolution that would block changes to the Washington, D.C., criminal code should it reach his desk, multiple senators said after a closed-door lunch with him on Thursday.
The president himself soon confirmed his position, which places him at odds with some within his own party. A source in the room for the meeting said the president brought up the matter unprompted.
“I support D.C. statehood and home-rule — but I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the mayor’s objections — such as lowering penalties for carjackings,” the president tweeted. “If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did — I’ll sign it.”
The GOP-controlled House passed a resolution last month to block a bill adopted by the D.C. City Council that overhauls the district’s criminal code. Thirty-one House Democrats joined all House Republicans in passing the resolution in the lower chamber. The Senate has yet to take up the measure, but is expected to soon. Mr. Biden’s statement could give more Democrats the green light to vote in favor of the disapproval resolution.
“The president wants to make sure that communities, even in D.C., Americans in D.C., feel safe,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday.
The changes to the D.C. criminal code, which wouldn’t take effect until 2025, would lower the maximum prison sentences for some crimes like carjacking, while increasing punishments for others and eliminating many mandatory minimum sentences. Some proponents of the changes note that maximum penalties often aren’t implemented. Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the changes to the criminal code, but the City Council overrode her veto.
The fight over the changes have become a flashpoint in a broader argument over the District of Columbia’s ability to govern itself. The Constitution gives Congress jurisdiction over all matters in the capital, with lawmakers delegating some authority to the city’s elected representatives.
However, the House and Senate can overturn legislation passed by the D.C. City Council within a certain review period. Democratic lawmakers who oppose the disapproval resolution have argued that Congress should not overturn the will of the elected representatives of the district, and point to the episode as an argument in favor of granting D.C. statehood.
The Congressional Black Caucus was holding a news conference as the news about Mr. Biden’s position on the criminal code resolution broke. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting member of Congress who represents the district, was caught off guard.
“That is news to me,” she said. “I’m very disappointed.”
The fate of the congressional resolution isn’t clear in the Senate, which Democrats control by a slim 51-to-49 margin. The Senate is currently missing two senators, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. John Fetterman, due to health issues. A simple majority is needed to pass a disapproval resolution, and at least two Democrats, Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have said they would vote to block the D.C. law.
Zak Hudak contributed reporting.