Some Democrats are criticizing President Joe Biden’s support of a bipartisan resolution overturning Washington D.C.’s criminal code revision that would lessen penalties for convicted criminals.
In January, the District of Columbia City Council voted to force through revisions of the district’s criminal code in an effort to soften penalties on violent crimes. Democrat Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the bill, but was overrided by the D.C. City Council, prompting Congress to step in.
“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,” Biden wrote in a Tweet Wednesday. “If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did – I’ll sign it.”
While the bill garnered bipartisan support in the House, some Democrats think that Biden shouldn’t interfere with the state law that seeks to lessen restrictions on crimes such as sexual assault and carjackings.
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“This ain’t it,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said a response to Biden’s Tweet. “DC has a right to govern itself, like any other state or municipality. If the President supports DC statehood, he should govern like it. Plenty of places pass laws the President may disagree with. He should respect the people’s gov of DC just as he does elsewhere.”
Democratic D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton labeled Biden’s decision as “a sad day for D.C. home rule” and blasted the Senators who support the proposal.
“Today has been a sad day for D.C. home rule and D.C. residents’ right to self-governance, which President Biden himself highlighted in his administration’s Statement of Administration Policy issued mere weeks ago,” Norton said in a press release. “We had hoped that with more Senate support, we would have been able to ensure that neither disapproval resolution pending before the Senate would reach the president’s desk, but with the nationwide increase in crime, most senators do not want to be seen as supporting criminal justice reform.”
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Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., said he will try to change the president’s mind before he signs the bipartisan proposal into law, “I will continue to do everything within my power to persuade the president that signing or failing to veto the resolution would empower the paternalistic, anti-democratic Republican opposition to the principle of local control over local affairs,” Aguilar tweeted.
“It’s disappointing for me and anybody who believes in home rule, honestly. I’m a former mayor of a city of 70,000, and I wouldn’t want the federal government coming in and telling me what city ordinances to pass. … So I think it’s disappointing in that context,” Aguilar said, despite D.C. Mayor Bowser publicly opposing the criminal code revision and supporting Congress’ push to halt the law change.
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“I voted against it, but I understand and respect the president’s position here,” Aguilar continued. “We’ll see, the Senate has to pass that, and I know that they’ve said they have the votes but all of those things have to happen. But it’s disappointing for those of us who believe in home rule.”
While some members of the party don’t agree with the president stepping in to reverse the new D.C. law, the GOP-introduced disapproval resolution is backed by several Democrats.
West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said he will vote to reverse D.C.’s criminal code revision.
“I don’t support it. I mean, I want to put people away, I don’t want to let them out,” Manchin told CNN of the revision Monday. “I haven’t been briefed on it, but what I know about it, I would vote to rescind it.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii., told CNN that she is “torn” and understands both sides of the argument.
“On the one hand, I very much support DC statehood. I support home rule. … On the other hand, when the mayor vetoed the bill saying that it would not provide enough safety even if 95% of the bill was good, I am torn,” the senator said.
“Calling it a home rule thing is not so accurate. This is about getting it right when we all realize there are some very serious crime issues,” Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico said of the revision.
According to Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, Congress has power to “exercise exclusive Legislation” over the District of Columbia, an action that has not been taken in over 30 years. The reversal to the criminal code revision passed in the House on a 250-173 vote, and is expected to clear the Senate before heading to the presidents’ desk.