Mar 30, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Biden shifts strategy on next D.C. vote after House Dem uproar

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden will veto a GOP-led resolution overturning a local D.C. police reform law if Congress passes it, the White House said Thursday.

Why it matters: It's a messaging and strategy shift that comes as House Democrats have been demanding greater clarity about Biden's intentions before they vote on measures that have a real chance of reaching his desk.

Driving the news: A White House official confirmed to Axios that Biden "will veto" the resolution blocking a D.C. law that includes a chokehold ban and a restriction on police unions' involvement in the disciplinary process.

  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said later Thursday during a news briefing that Biden “does not support every provision” in the D.C. law, but “he will not support congressional Republicans’ efforts to overturn commonsense police reform.”
  • “Congress should respect D.C.’s rights to pass measures that improve public safety and public trust,” she added.

The backdrop: House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said at a press conference on Thursday: “It’s my hope and expectation that the White House will be crystal clear well in advance of that legislation hitting the floor as to their perspective.”

  • Still, Jeffries noted that the White House never explicitly threatened to veto the D.C. crime and COVID resolutions before the House voted, stating, "The White House has kept its word."
  • The White House has also said they had been in touch with congressional leadership since January about the COVID emergency, suggesting it represents an improvement in communications.

The big picture: House Democrats, in interviews with Axios before the White House's announcement, said there was anger in their ranks over the D.C. crime and COVID votes and a desire for Biden to clearly telegraph his plans.

  • “They need to improve their communications a lot," said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.). "Every vote matters. There are those who feel like they're being taken for granted."
  • "I have some grumpy colleagues who feel like, once again ... they were blindsided, caught off guard," said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).
  • "I think it would be good, because of what happened last time, for them to be clear early that they will veto this," said Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

Between the lines: Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said Biden's position "will weigh in the balance" for some undecided members, though Cicilline said he is opposed to overturning D.C. laws.

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said the White House "tied themselves in a knot" by allowing the D.C. crime bill to be overturned because they "set a precedent ... [and] invit[ed] Republicans to needle them more."
  • She said it was a "mistake" for Biden to tell senators he would sign the crime resolution because "it could have easily [been] voted down, potentially, in the Senate."
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