Mar 1, 2023 - Politics
Town Talker

Republicans see momentum for overturning D.C. criminal code law

The U.S. Capitol seen on Pennsylvania Avenue

That other legislature on Pennsylvania Avenue. Photo: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

It has been another busy week on the collision course between Congress and hometown D.C., with House Republicans now plotting to meddle with the city’s elections and Democratic wildcard Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia siding with the GOP on overturning the criminal code reform.

Why it matters: Congress is flexing more authority over the District than in recent decades, vexing local leaders and likely putting President Biden in a bind over whether to veto bipartisan legislation.

Driving the news: Capitol Hill is the talk of the town these days, so I turned to Axios Congress reporter Andrew Solender, who just scooped that a little-noticed House committee would like to probe if D.C. and other cities use federal funds to facilitate non-citizen voting.

“We must also exercise Congress’ constitutional responsibility over Washington, D.C., by implementing key election integrity tools following years of poorly run elections,” Wisconsin Republican Rep. Bryan Steil said on Tuesday.

  • It’s not clear what Steil is planning, and his office didn’t return our request for comment. But it cryptically hints at more micromanaging of the District.

Catch up quick: The focus on elections comes after the House last month voted to overturn a D.C. bill allowing non-citizen residents to cast ballots in local elections.

  • The intrigue: The D.C. Council believes that bill became law last week following a required 30-day congressional review period. But the Senate parliamentarian disagrees on how those days were counted, saying that the Senate has until March 14 to take a vote on whether to overturn it, according to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s office.

Meanwhile, on the crime front, Tennessee Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty’s office tells me he plans to advance a resolution next week, possibly next Tuesday or Wednesday, overturning the city’s criminal code reform. It just needs a simple majority vote.

  • Manchin told CNN he would “vote to rescind” the reform, meaning that the Senate could pass the resolution with just Manchin and 49 Republicans — if Democratic Sen. John Fetterman remains hospitalized, as DCist notes. But it’s also very possible more moderates like Democratic Sen. Jon Tester join Manchin, forcing Biden to weigh his first veto.

Between the lines: The D.C. interventions are elevating the profiles of Republicans like Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde — who wants to overturn all local home rule — and most recently Hagerty, who after a career in private equity and as Trump’s ambassador to Japan became a senator in 2021, once considered voting against certifying Biden’s election win.

Gaffe redux: Staring down a revolt from appalled statehood allies, D.C. “shadow” Senator Michael D. Brown initially seemed to soften his posture on the D.C. Council after telling me two weeks ago that they were like a “petulant child” for passing the criminal code reform and non-citizen voting — lefty measures that he believed compelled Congress to intervene.

  • But he doubled down on his metaphor last Friday, telling Politico that the council “reminded me of my teenagers … drunk in the living room with a bottle of wine” asking to drive the car.

One pol changing her tack is Mayor Muriel Bowser. After I reported that she wasn’t lobbying against the two overturn votes in Congress, Bowser did the bare minimum last Thursday, joining the council and Attorney General Brian Schwalb in dispatching letters to the Senate condemning any intervention.

Axios' Andrew Solender contributed reporting.

💬 Town Talker is a weekly column on local politics. Drop me a line about the talk of the town: [email protected]


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Washington D.C..


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Washington D.C. stories

No stories could be found

Washington D.C.postcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Washington D.C..


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more