Mar 2, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Biden says he will sign resolution blocking D.C. crime law

Joe Biden

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Biden said Thursday he would sign a GOP-led resolution to block changes to Washington, D.C.'s local criminal code that reduce maximum penalties for some violent crimes.

Why it matters: Against the backdrop of rising gun violence in the nation's capital, Biden's remarks clear the way for Congress to overturn a D.C. law for the first time in over three decades, after expected bipartisan approval in the Senate.

What they're saying: "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 tweeted, hours after briefing Democratic Senators on his intentions. "If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did – I’ll sign it."

State of play: The Senate could advance the measure as soon as next week, coming as some centrists try to distance themselves from the progressive left ahead of competitive re-election fights in red and purple states in 2024.

  • Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told Axios on Wednesday he plans to vote for the resolution, and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said he "likely" will as well, putting it on track to pass.
  • Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) told reporters he will vote for it as well: "I don’t support what the District did." Sen. Martin Heinrich also told Bloomberg he will support it and predicted most Democrats would.

The big picture: Congress has final authority over the capital city. Since reclaiming control of the House, Republicans are ushering in a new era of intervention into D.C., where local Democrats have long sought greater autonomy.

  • The refusal of Biden to break out the veto pen marks a low point in District self-governance.
  • It's also a departure from just last month, when his administration released statements of opposition to overturning the criminal code reform and another resolution that would block non-citizens from voting in local elections in D.C.

Between the lines: Republicans and moderate Democrats, including Manchin and Mayor Muriel Bowser, have criticized the criminal code reform for reducing some maximum penalties for violent crimes.

  • Supporters, meanwhile, point out that the sweeping overhaul took over a decade to craft and would modernize and update an archaic criminal code.
  • Bowser vetoed the D.C. Council's reform package and initially did not lobby against Congress intervening. Her spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

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