Posted on March 9, 2023

Congress Overturns D.C. Crime Bill With President Biden’s Help

Susan Davis, NPR, March 8, 2023

The Democratic-held Senate approved a GOP-led resolution that will overrule the liberal Washington, D.C., city council’s rewrite of the criminal code for the nation’s capital. The legislation now heads to President Biden’s desk, who surprised congressional Democrats when he announced last week that he would not veto the measure.

The vote has exposed divisions within Democratic ranks over how to confront widespread concerns over crime and public safety, which the party has historically lagged behind Republicans when it comes to voters’ trust.

The measure cleared the Senate 81-14. Democrats — including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — voted with Republicans to approve it. One senator voted present. The measure only required a simple majority to pass. Last month, 31 House Democrats voted with all Republicans to pass the measure {snip}


The D.C. bill is the product of a years-long review that involved various stakeholders in the criminal justice system. It passed the D.C. council unanimously, but was vetoed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat. Her veto was overruled but her opposition helped fuel GOP arguments — and Biden’s concern — that the bill could be perceived as too soft on crime at a time when rates of homicides and car thefts are rising in the city, according to police data.

At issue in what was a sweeping but otherwise noncontroversial effort to overhaul D.C.’s criminal statutes are provisions to reduce the maximum penalties for crimes like armed carjacking from 40 years down to 24, which supporters argue is in line with the actual sentences handed down in court in recent years.

There was also objection to a provision to expanding the right to jury trials for certain criminal misdemeanor offenses, which critics say would overload a taxed D.C. court system and result in prosecutors dropping more cases.

Those arguments — and Biden’s support for the GOP position — were enough for Democrats like Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who sided with Republicans. He noted hundreds of thousands of Virginians commute daily into Washington, D.C.

“If we were to somehow send a message that, alright, we’re going to lower the penalty on carjacking? That doesn’t pass the smell test,” he told NPR. Warner acknowledged his party has had a more difficult time winning over voters when crime is a top concern.

“I think there might be a Democratic House if folks had handled the crime issue differently [in 2022],” he said.