March 24, 2023


The Senate passed a Republican-led resolution on Wednesday to block a controversial Washington, DC, crime bill that opponents have criticized as weak on crime. The measure will next go to President Joe Biden, who has said he won’t veto it.

The effort to block the crime bill divided Democrats and highlighted the difficult balance the party is attempting to strike as Republicans accuse them of failing to tackle the issue of crime.

While a large number of Democrats ultimately supported the resolution, Biden’s announcement that he would not veto it surprised and upset members of his party as many believe Congress should not interfere in the political affairs of the district.

Democrats control a narrow 51-to-49 majority in the Senate, where most legislation requires at least 60 votes to pass to overcome a filibuster. The resolution of disapproval to block the DC crime bill, however, required only a simple majority vote in the Senate. The final vote was overwhelmingly bipartisan with a tally of 81-14.

The DC Council chairman attempted to withdraw the legislation from congressional review after it became clear the resolution of disapproval was on track to pass the Senate with widespread support. But that attempted withdrawal did not stop the Senate vote from moving forward.

The vote marked the latest effort by Republicans to put vulnerable Senate Democrats on the spot and expose divides within the party over politically charged issues.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed a resolution to overturn a Biden administration retirement investment rule that Republicans claim pushes a liberal agenda on Americans and will hurt retirees’ bottom lines. Democrats have countered, saying it’s not about ideology and will help investors, and the administration has said the president will veto the measure.

Biden’s announcement that he would not veto the effort to block the DC crime bill caught many congressional Democrats off guard – and came after the administration had earlier put out a statement saying it opposed the resolution of disapproval. “Congress should respect the District of Columbia’s autonomy to govern its own local affairs,” the statement said.

The House passed the resolution in February before Biden’s veto announcement, with 173 Democrats voting against it. At the time, the understanding among Democrats was that Biden opposed the bill – in no small part because of the White House statement saying it opposed it.

In an apparent effort to outline his rationale, Biden tweeted in early March, “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. If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did – I’ll sign it.”

The controversial crime bill was initially vetoed by DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, with Bowser saying in a statement at the time that the bill “does not make us safer.” In a letter to the DC council chairman, Bowser expressed concern that “the council substantially reduced penalties for robberies, carjackings and home invasion burglaries.”

The council, however, voted to override the mayor’s veto. “Decades of dramatic increases in incarceration have not been a solution to rising crime,” a release from the council said on the veto override.

Some Democrats contend that public debate over the crime bill has lacked nuance, pointing to policies that run counter to the “weak on crime” messaging around the bill.

“The debate over the DC crime law has gone a bit off the rails. It lowers the carjacking maximum to 24 years, but that’s IN LINE with many states. And the bill INCREASES sentences for attempted murder, attempted sexual assault, misdemeanor sexual abuse and many other crimes,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted earlier this week.

Republicans, meanwhile, have called the DC crime bill dangerous and irresponsible.

“Congress is tasked with overseeing Washington, D.C.—a federal district where people should be safe to live and work. The district should set a nationwide example by enacting legislation that makes its residents and visitors safer—not less safe,” Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, a lead sponsor of the resolution in the Senate, said in a statement.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.


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