Senate Democrats, under pressure to respond to attacks that they are soft on crime, crossed the aisle Wednesday and voted with Republicans to shut down “woke” reforms to Washington D.C.’s criminal code.
The rare bi-partisan rebuke marks the first time in 30 years that Congress has sought to override “home rule” in the nation’s capital.
33 Democrats joined all Senate Republicans in voting to reverse the reforms, which were approved by the D.C. city council over the objections of the Democratic mayor Muriel Bowser.
The reforms lowered penalties for serious offenses like carjacking, which have plagued cities like D.C. since a crime surge began in 2020.
Democrats overturn crime reform
The vote presented a challenge for Democrats, who nominally support local autonomy in D.C. and eventual statehood for the city.
When the House voted on the issue last month, Democrats overwhelmingly sided with the city. But the herd-like Democratic caucus shifted direction after President Biden signaled that he would not veto a Republican resolution overriding the city council.
Biden’s move produced angry noises on the left, but most Dems fell in line, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and three senators who are facing re-election in Trump-friendly states in 2024, Joe Manchin (WV). Jon Tester (MT), and Sherrod Brown (OH).
Only 14 Democratic senators, including whip Dick Durbin (IL), Bernie Sanders (who caucuses with Dems despite being “independent”), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) voted to preserve the city’s reforms.
“These are sensible proposals to update a criminal justice code that hasn’t been changed since 1901. And the changes are in line with the majority of states around this country,” Warren said.
Off the hook?
There have already been 101 carjackings in the city this year, and murders have soared 33 percent compared to last year, when homicides were already near their highest rate in 20 years.
Some Democrats who voted with the city, like Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), say Democrats fell into a “trap” laid for them by the GOP. But Democrats like Tammy Baldwin (WI) were clearly sensitive to the risk of validating Republican attacks that Democrats are against law and order.
“I do support D.C. statehood, and yet they are not yet a state and we do have those oversight responsibilities,” Baldwin said. “And the highest calling of a representative is to keep their constituents safe.”
Republicans like Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are warning that Democrats aren’t “off the hook” with one vote.
“The Democrats’ flip-flop is good news for the residents of D.C. and the 300-plus-million Americans who deserve to be able to visit their nation’s capital in peace. But Democrats are not getting off the hook this easy,” McConnell said.