Biden Signs Bill Nullifying DC Revision03/21 06:09
President Joe Biden on Monday signed into law legislation nullifying the
recent overhaul of the District of Columbia criminal code, but the fight
between Congress and local lawmakers is continuing.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden on Monday signed into law legislation
nullifying the recent overhaul of the District of Columbia criminal code, but
the fight between Congress and local lawmakers is continuing.
The signature merely marks the end of a raucous first chapter in a saga that
has left district lawmakers bitterly nursing their political bruises, harboring
fresh resentments against national Democrats and bracing to play defense
against an activist Republican-controlled House for at least the next two years.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy hailed the move in a statement, calling it the
end of what he labeled a "soft-on-crime criminal code rewrite that treated
violent criminals like victims and discarded the views of law enforcement."
But even before the bill was formally sent to sent to Biden, House
Republicans were promising a season of direct congressional intervention in
local D.C. affairs.
"This is just the beginning," McCarthy, R-Calif., said earlier this month in
a celebratory signing ceremony after the vote to cancel the new criminal code
passed the Senate with significant Democratic support. "It is a message for the
D.C. Council members sound like they fully believe those promises.
"I'm afraid that we're going to see more of this for the remainder of this
Congress," D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said. "Does this raise a
concern that there are going to be other issues? Yes."
When congressional passage of the measure appeared inevitable and Biden
indicated he would sign it, the D.C. Council withdrew the measure. But the move
did not spare Biden a politically charged decision on whether to endorse the
Biden did not issue a statement accompanying the signing Monday. But he
tweeted earlier this month that while he supported statehood for D.C., "I don't
support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the mayor's
objections -- such as lowering penalties for carjackings."
Under terms of Washington's Home Rule authority, t he House Committee on
Oversight and Accountability essentially vets all new D.C. laws and frequently
alters or limits them through budget riders. But the criminal code rewrite is
the first law to be completely overturned since 1991.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., has pledged that
his committee "stands ready to conduct robust oversight of America's capital
That robust oversight has already begun. Even before Biden signed the bill,
the Oversight Committee sent letters summoning Mendelson, D.C. Councilmember
Charles Allen and D.C. Chief Financial Officer Glen Lee to testify at a March
29 hearing. The topic of that hearing, according to the letter, is the
ominously vague "general oversight of the District of Columbia, including
crime, safety, and city management."
Other House Republicans have already identified areas of interest to target.
Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia has introduced a resolution to block a police
accountability law known as the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform
Most aspects of that law were passed by the D.C. Council on an emergency
basis in 2020, amid the protests against police brutality following George
Floyd's murder; it was made permanent in December 2022. It bans the use of
chokeholds by police officers, makes police disciplinary files available to the
public, weakens the bargaining power of the police union and limits the use of
tear gas to disperse protestors.
"Now that Congress has effectively used its constitutional authority to
strike down the D.C. Council's dangerous Revised Criminal Code Act, we must now
move to swiftly block this anti-police measure to ensure our nation's capital
city is safe for all Americans," Clyde said in a statement.
Clyde is a longtime nemesis of D.C. loyalists, having publicly stated that
his ultimate goal is to completely end Washington's Home Rule authority. That
sentiment, once a long-shot fringe position, has edged closer to being a
mainstream Republican talking point. Former President Donald Trump publicly
stated earlier this month that the "federal government should take over control
and management of Washington D.C."
Meanwhile, Oversight Committee member Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.,
has targeted the D.C. Jail for congressional scrutiny. Greene has demanded
access to the jail to visit some two dozen detainees from the Jan. 6
insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. She's also seeking a complete overview of the
Other aspects of D.C. legislation remain ripe targets for activist
Republicans, such as the District's strict gun control laws or the decision to
essentially decriminalize most psychedelics -- a move that was approved by D.C.
voters in a referendum.
This congressional onslaught of oversight was widely predicted when
Republicans took back control of the House in last year's midterm elections.
But most local politicians and activists hoped they could count on Democratic
control of both the Senate and the White House as a shield. Those hopes rapidly
melted away in a storm of political dynamics that amounted to a humiliating
setback for the D.C. Council and the larger hopes of Washington ever achieving
House Republicans were able to put Biden and Senate Democrats in a political
bind. By defending D.C.'s right to self-governance, they would open themselves
to charges of being soft on criminals at a time of rising crime both in the
nation's capital and across the U.S.
In the end, Biden signaled before the Senate vote that he would not veto the
rejection of the criminal code and 33 Democratic senators voted to overturn it.
The moves were regarded by statehood activists as a betrayal that they say
exposed the hollowness of Democratic support for D.C. statehood.
For now, the D.C. Council maintains that the city's criminal code is
dangerously obsolete and desperately in need of reform. But after seeing the
initial law turned into a national political issue, there appears to be little
appetite to try again in the short term.
Mendelson said that changing the aspects that drew criticism, such as the
lowering of maximum penalties for crimes like carjacking, would simply lead to
other objections from a Republican House that he said is openly looking for a
"I don't plan on installing a hotline to Republican leadership in the House
and the Senate and calling them every week and asking them for permission to
move forward," Mendelson said.