The District of Columbia is withdrawing controversial legislation to rewrite its criminal sentencing laws and make them less punitive after President Joe Biden said he would support a GOP-backed measure to override the revisions.
Biden’s support to overturn the D.C. law comes as national Republicans are increasingly pointing to rising murder and assault rates in large cities to portray Democrats as soft on crime.
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More:Joe Biden says he will sign bill overriding D.C.’s new crime law that reduces sentences
City Council chair withdraws legislation before Senate vote
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he sent a letter to the Senate withdrawing the city’s criminal code revision legislation which Congress must review as part of its Constitutionally-required oversight of the city’s laws. The measure is being withdrawn only days before the Senate is scheduled to vote on it.
The Republican-controlled House passed a disapproval resolution, which nullified the city’s revised criminal codes, last month, 250-173. Thirty-one Democrats voted with Republicans to pass the resolution.
“I’m quite clear in my letter that pulling it back means the clock stops and it would have to be retransmitted to both houses and that this will enable the council to work on the measure in light of congressional comments and retransmit it later,” Mendelson said during a press conference Monday.
“I don’t know if that’ll stop the Senate Republicans, but our position is the bill is not before Congress any longer,” Mendelson added.
GOP continues to hammer Democrats on crime
The legislation’s passage faced immediate criticism from Republicans, especially as they have continued to depict Democrats as soft on crime in recent years.
Biden has worked to distance himself from the “defund the police” mantra of the left. His decision effectively opposing D.C’s efforts to provide offenders leniency could shield him from further criticism from the right about being soft on crime as he prepares for reelection in 2024.
“By rejecting D.C.‘s law, President Biden acknowledged the basic fact that soft-on-crime policies endanger the public,” Arkansas GOP Sen. Tom Cotton said Thursday in a tweet. “He should apply the same reasoning to drug trafficking, defunding the police, and illegal immigration.”
Several Democrats opposed the president’s decision, arguing the City Council should be allowed to govern itself without Congress or Biden interfering.
“I’m deeply disappointed to see the President announce he will allow Congress to overturn a D.C. law for the first time in decades,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., wrote in a statement. “Democrats’ commitment to home rule should apply regardless of the substance of the local legislation.”
White House reiterates Biden would overturn new crime code
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre wouldn’t comment Monday on the D.C. council chairman’s move to withdraw the crime legislation, citing the “ongoing” council process. She reiterated that Biden would sign the congressional legislation to override D.C.’s criminal code if it makes it to his desk.
Jean-Pierre said the White House is in “constant communication” with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and her office when asked why the Biden administration didn’t notify the mayor about Biden’s position, which he announced last Thursday.
Bowser told NBC News she learned from news reports about Biden’s plans to sign legislation overturning the city’s criminal code. Even though Bowser opposed the council’s rewrite of D.C.’s criminal code, Bowser also opposed congressional intervention, calling it an “indignity.”
“(President Biden) wanted to make sure that he delivered for the 700,000 residents of D.C. in a way that was protecting the residents here,” Jean-Pierre said in response to Bowser’s objections. “This was brought to him. This is not something that we put forward.”
D.C. Mayor opposed revised crime codes, council overturned veto
The district’s city council unanimously approved a new local criminal code last November in an attempt to modernize them in more than a century.
The new criminal codes would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for several crimes, reduce maximum sentences for offenses such as robbery and burglary and allow jury trials for misdemeanors.
Bowser vetoed the council’s bill in January over concerns of overburdening the court system and reducing penalties for some violent crimes, including those involving guns.
The council overrode Bowser’s veto 12 – 1. The council requires a two-thirds majority vote to override a veto.