Joe Biden said Thursday he would not veto a Republican-led effort to roll back changes to the District of Columbia’s criminal code, changing the White House’s position on the issue as he aims to project a tough-on-crime image.
“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 wrote on Twitter After a meeting closed to the public with Senate Democrats, he first revealed his position. “If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did — I’ll sign it.”
Thursday’s announcement seemingly places Biden’s desire to insulate himself from ongoing GOP attacks on crime above the Democratic Party’s stated support for D.C. statehood and home rule for the district’s more than 712,000 residents, who lack voting representation in Congress. It also reverses the administration’s previously stated opposition to the the GOP-led resolution.
“He said that very clearly, and we heard that loud and clear,” “Senator Joe Manchin (D.W.Va.), was the sole senator Democrat that had supported the override of D.C. Council. “He said he will not veto. I guess he thinks it’s a bridge too far.”
Biden’s decision not to stand in the way of the GOP’s effort to oppose the council’s changes will likely encourage other Senate Democrats to join Manchin, and could ultimately result in Congress directly overturning a D.C. law for the first time in three decades.
These changes mirror the criminal code updates made in other states across the nation and were unanimously approved by the D.C. Council last year. Many of the minor modifications are not significant. They update and standardize the code created by federal and local lawmakers over the past century. But a few provisions that reduce the maximum sentence for carjacking or murder have generated anger and opposition.
Senator Martin Heinrich (D.N.M.), told reporters that he believes most Democrats will vote for the repeal of the amended criminal code.
“Most of that bill has some very good changes, and then there’s some really problematic stuff which is why the mayor vetoed it in the first place,” Heinrich said. “So I think calling it a home rule thing is not so accurate as this is about getting it right when we all realize that there are some very serious crime issues.”
Like many cities around the world, Washington saw a spike in crime during the coronavirus epidemic. Local politics have been grappling with how to address this issue. After increasing for the previous four years, murders decreased in Washington between 2021 and 2022. The murder rate is still well below the level it was in 1990s after crack cocaine’s epidemic.
He stated: Biden All aligned himself to Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowlser, who in January vetoed these changes, only for the council in a 12-1 vote to override it. Bowser and the other Democrats insist that Congress should not interfere with local laws.
“To me, the Congress should not substitute its judgment for the elected representatives of the people of the District of Columbia,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) stated Thursday that he was dissatisfied with the outcome. Biden’s decision not to veto the resolution.
Soon after, a briefing was held for the media Biden’s announcement, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre struggled to reconcile Biden’s support for the district’s autonomy with his decision to block the law.
“Two things could exist at the same time: The president still thinks D.C. should become the 51st state,” Jean-Pierre said. “He feels as president, he has obligations as well to keep America’s cities safe. This is one step in a way to do that.”
The House has already voted to block the D.C. Council’s proposed changes, with 31 Democrats joining every House Republican in voting to override the council last week.
Before that vote, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget expressed their opposition to the override.
“This taxation without representation and denial of self-governance is an affront to the democratic values on which our Nation was founded,” The office issued a Statement of Administration Policy.
The GOP To head to, a simple majority vote is required in the Senate to pass a resolution. Biden’s desk. Many senators claim that the president didn’t explain his thoughts to Senate Democrats during a special caucus luncheon on Thursday. He mentioned his plans in the middle of a speech about the Democratic agenda.
Officials from the D.C. expressed disappointment at his decision, although they did not directly criticize him.
“Local autonomy and self-determination are fundamental American values,” Brian Schwalb (D.C. Attorney General), a supporter for the criminal code reform. “Any effort to overturn the District of Columbia’s democratically enacted laws degrades the right of its nearly 700,000 residents and elected officials to self-govern — a right that almost every other American has.”
In 2025, the overhaul would have effect. The new law will eliminate mandatory minimum sentences in many cases and allow for jury trials to be instituted for other misdemeanors. New sentencing caps would also be established based upon the punishments that defendants received during the previous decade.
The debates have centered on reducing sentences for carjacking. This crime has seen an increase in D.C. over recent years. From 40 years to 24 years, the maximum sentence was reduced for this crime. However, as Slate notedJudges never gave carjacking cases 40-year sentences. The new 24-year sentence is also longer than the 15 year standard.
It also fixed laws that were just plain absurd: the existing code, threatening to destroy someone’s property warranted a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Actually destroying someone’s property? Not for more than 10 years.
The D.C. Council was not clear if it might try to pass the overhaul code a second-time. “The Chairman is aware of the President’s position. We’re exploring our options at this time,” Lindsey Walton was a spokesperson for Phil Mendelson (D.C. Council Chairman), and spoke to The Sunday Review in an interview.
D.C. laws are subject to the Home Rule Act. It was enacted in 1973. The Home Rule Act allowed cities to govern their own affairs. It has not yet used it in recent years but it passed federal budget provisions that prohibit the city’s use of public funds to finance abortion or set up a legal pot market.
Biden’s controversial decision comes ahead of his expected run for reelection in 2024. Republicans sought to make crime a major issue in the 2022 midterm elections, and they’re doing so again ahead of the 2024 presidential election, talking up crime in Democratic-run cities.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called Biden’s move “smart” politics.
“You don’t want to get to the left of the [D.C.] mayor. It makes no sense to go light on gun crimes in D.C.,” Graham shared his thoughts with The Sunday Review.
Jennifer Bendery, Arthur Delaney, and Jennifer Bendery also contributed to reporting.