Feb 10, 2023 - Politics

D.C. mayor stands by as Congress intervenes in crime law

U.S. Capitol

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) leaves the Capitol after a series of votes. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Congress is closer to overturning a D.C. law for the first time since 1991, after the House on Thursday approved blocking controversial reforms to the city’s criminal code. And Mayor Muriel Bowser might be fine with that.

Why it matters: In the end, 31 Democrats joined the GOP-led effort to overturn the criminal code reform, which reduces some maximum penalties for violent crimes. It was a surprising bipartisan intervention in local affairs at a time of heightened Republican pressure on the District.

The intrigue: Even though Bowser has publicly said she opposes Congress meddling in the District, her office did not try to lobby members of Congress to dissuade them from intervening.

  • That’s because Bowser has been a vocal critic of the reforms approved by the D.C. Council, unsuccessfully vetoing the legislation last month and recently proposing changes to sections that expand jury trials for misdemeanors and reduce sentences.

“It is not up to the mayor to lobby for something she doesn’t believe in,” a source familiar with Bowser’s thinking said.

State of play: Republicans are increasingly using the topic of crime around Capitol Hill and across the city as reasoning to intervene in D.C.

Democrats who joined Republicans included Minnesota Rep. Angie Craig, who hours before the vote was attacked inside the elevator of her upscale apartment building in Northeast, according to her office and a D.C. police report.

  • A man punched her in the face and grabbed her neck, the report said, and she escaped after throwing her cup of coffee at him. The attack is not believed to be politically motivated. D.C. police on Thursday night arrested Kendrick Hamlin, 26, and charged him with simple assault.
  • A statement from Craig chief of staff Nick Coe said the representative is "grateful to the DC Metropolitan Police Department for their quick response."

What they’re saying: “I’m very encouraged that 31 of my Democrat colleagues supported my common sense resolution,” said Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), who is also drafting a bill to repeal D.C.'s self-governance.

Between the lines: The extent of bipartisan support for overturning D.C. laws marks a new low point in the recent history of local autonomy.

The House also voted to overturn a bill giving noncitizen residents the right to vote in D.C. elections. That action garnered 42 Democrats in support, including Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger.

  • She was the sole Democrat in the Maryland or Virginia congressional delegation to vote in favor of one of the GOP-led interventions.

What’s next: The Senate has to approve the House’s actions, and it would need President Biden’s signature to take effect. The White House has already said it is in opposition.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to show that Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger was the only Democrat (not the only member) in the Maryland or Virginia congressional delegation to vote in favor of one of the GOP-led interventions.

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