President Biden to sign GOP resolution reversing parts of DC crime bill despite Democratic opposition

 March 3, 2023

President Joe Biden announced his intention to sign legislation that Republicans have championed, which would undo parts of a District of Columbia crime bill.

The president told Senate Democrats on Thursday that he will not veto the measure, several senators reported after the meeting, according to The Hill.

The local law up for debate would increase the necessity for jury trials in the majority of minor cases, abolish most mandatory sentences, and lessen punishments for a handful of serious acts, such as carjackings and robberies.

"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," Biden later tweeted. "If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did — I'll sign it."

Other Politicians Weigh In

Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) had opposed the crime measure, but also backed a Biden veto of the GOP bill because of the implications for home rule. A veto would undoubtedly have been used by the GOP in campaign ads as Republicans push their opinion that Democrats are too soft on crime.

The legislation was unanimously approved by the D.C. City Council, which then overrode a veto by Bowser in an overwhelming 12-1 vote.

The GOP-led House passed a resolution of disapproval that would block the implementation of the law. It is likely to pass the Senate with bipartisan support in a vote as early as next week, despite the Democratic Party's usual support for D.C. home rule.

All 49 Republican senators support the resolution rescinding the crime bill, which means it will pass the Senate if another Democrat joins Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) in supporting it. Other Democrats who face difficult reelection races in 2024 may vote with him next week.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said on Thursday after Biden's announcement that he's still undecided about the resolution. Other Democrats also seemed unsure, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who told reporters, "talk to me next week."

"It is a complicated matter in this sense. It's kind of D.C. battle between the City Council that's elected by the people that said this is the right thing and the mayor that's elected by the people that said this is the wrong thing," he said. "That means, OK, they're not on the same page. You got to dig into it."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters on Thursday, "It's smart politics. He was running into a buzzsaw. You don't want to get left of the D.C. mayor."

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) told reporters that Biden's stance was "news to me, and I'm very disappointed in it."

Republicans Take

Republicans are celebrating the president's decision, with Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, praising the move in a statement on Thursday.

"This legislation would have eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for serious crimes and given soft treatment to violent offenders. It is refreshing to see President Biden reject Democrats' radical defund the police agenda and work with Republicans to put public safety first," Comer said.

The issue highlights the ongoing battle over statehood for D.C. and the struggle between the D.C. City Council and the mayor's office. While the City Council is elected by the people and has voiced support for the legislation, the mayor's office has opposed it. The resolution is expected to pass the Senate with bipartisan support despite the Democratic majority in the upper chamber.

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