House Republicans' first big win
President Biden's refusal to veto a resolution blocking changes to D.C.'s criminal code has provided welcome cover to vulnerable Senate Democrats — while handing the House GOP an inaugural legislative win that few were expecting.
Why it matters: House Republicans had two top priorities when they took the gavel in January — blitzing the Biden administration with investigations and exacting deep spending cuts through negotiations over the debt ceiling.
- The GOP's oversight hearings have been as chaotic as predicted, and so far they've done little to damage Biden or answer questions the American public cares about, according to recent polling.
- In spending talks, Republicans remain divided and have yet to produce a budget plan — creating a vacuum that Democrats have exploited to accuse the GOP of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare.
Driving the news: In the absence of progress on these two fronts, Republicans' next best bet — as we previewed yesterday — has been to force Democrats into difficult votes that can be weaponized on the campaign trail.
- But instead of forcing Democrats to choose between embracing a potentially unpopular position and bucking their president, Biden made the surprise decision to keep his ink dry on the D.C. crime resolution.
- The move opened the floodgates for Senate Democrats to acknowledge their support for the bill, which will mark the first time Congress overturns a D.C. law in more than three decades.
What they're saying: House GOP conference chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) was quick to spike the football in a statement to Axios, claiming victory for Republicans' agenda and accusing Democrats of fueling a "violent crime crisis" with their policies.
Between the lines: Senate Democrats' broad reluctance to discuss the new D.C. law — which reduces maximum penalties for some violent crimes — reflects how fraught the crime issue has become within the party, especially paired with the debate over D.C. statehood.
- "I support D.C. statehood and home-rule — but I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over [D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's] objections — such as lowering penalties for carjackings," Biden said in a tweet confirming he would sign the GOP bill.
- The tweet was flooded with replies from Democratic activists accusing Biden of hypocrisy and of undermining D.C. autonomy.
By the numbers: High-profile mayoral elections and recent polling confirm crime has become a major wedge issue for Democrats, especially as many have sought to distance themselves from the "Defund the Police" movement.
- A January survey from Pew Research Center indicated that roughly twice as many Black (66%) and Hispanic Democrats (63%) view crime as a top priority compared to white Democrats (33%).
- 59% of conservative and moderate Democrats also called it a top priority, compared to 33% of liberal Democrats.
What to watch: Expect Republicans to seize on this momentum as they jam endangered Democrats on resolutions targeting the COVID emergency, ESG investing and another D.C. law that allows noncitizens to vote.