Criminal law

Biden is willing to sign on to efforts to prevent new crime laws in D.C


WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Thursday that he is willing to sign an agreement The decision sponsored by the Republicans Blocking new District of Columbia laws that would reform how crime is prosecuted and punished in the nation’s capital.

In doing so, the president would allow Congress to overturn city ordinances for the first time in more than three decades. Biden’s willingness to do so, despite previous opposition from the White House, is linked to growing concern about rising crime in the nation’s capital and across the United States, and comes amid relentless criticism from Republicans.

“The one thing the president believes in is making sure the streets in America and communities across the country are safe,” said Karen Jean-Pierre, White House press secretary. This includes the capital.

The district lacks the same rights as the states to make and amend laws. While Congress allowed the city’s residents some powers of “self-government,” it retained veto power over actions by the district government. District residents also do not have voting members of Congress.

City officials have spent nearly two decades trying to bring that back Washington criminal laws, including redefining crimes, changing criminal justice policies and rewriting how sentences are handed down after conviction. The overhaul was approved late last year by the D.C. Council. That decision overrode a veto by Mayor Muriel Bowser, who had concerns about some of the changes.

Then the Republican-controlled House decided to dig in, claiming that changes in the district would contribute to Washington’s already high crime rates — the number of murders in 2021 was the highest in nearly 20 years — and make it easier for some criminals to get information. Get out of prison or escape punishment for good.

The resolution passed the House of Representatives with some Democratic support and appears poised for approval in the US Senate on a bipartisan basis as well, perhaps as early as next week. And after Biden privately told senators he would sign the measure that overrides the changes, some Democratic senators said they would support the measure as well.

Biden later tweeted that although he supports statehood in D.C., “I don’t support some of the changes the D.C. Council has put forward over the mayor’s objections – like reducing penalties for auto thefts.”

“If the Senate votes to repeal what the D.C. Council did – I will sign it,” he added.

The decision comes weeks before Biden announces his re-election campaign and as he works to craft his message to voters and fend off expected GOP attacks on his record.

The GOP effort is part of a growing political backlash against the Democratic-led criminal justice changes that accelerated after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot She lost her bid for re-election this week some of her Democratic rivals He argued that the country’s third-largest city needed tough-on-crime policies. Some Republicans blame rising crime rates on reforms. But the reality is more complicated.

Earlier Thursday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell cited crimes in his home state of Kentucky as he tried to blame Biden and Democrats for high crime rates, including an incident two days ago when masked robbers stormed a car showroom and drove off. Six cars. .

“Removing murderers from our streets and foreign poisons from our neighborhoods is among the most basic responsibilities of government you can think of,” McConnell added, referring to the country’s fentanyl crisis. “It is clear that the Biden administration does not agree to that or cannot deliver on it.”

Washington’s criminal law hasn’t been significantly updated since it was first drafted in 1901. Criminal justice experts said it was outdated, confusing, and irrelevant to how crimes are punished today. And in the nation’s capital, like most places in the United States, black people are disproportionately affected by criminal laws.

Revisions passed by the D.C. Council late last year would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for many offenses and expand jury trials for lower-level charges. The changes would also reduce maximum penalties for burglary, auto theft, and theft.

House Republicans voted 250-173 to repeal the rewriting of the criminal code.

They also worked to repeal a new D.C. law that would allow non-citizens the right to vote. Biden is also expected to allow this override.

By allowing such overrides, Democrats are abandoning their commitment to oppose the unusual rules governing the district that allow Congress to intervene. The acquiescence comes despite Democrats’ long push to grant statehood to the nation’s capital. Some grappled with that Thursday.

“On the one hand, I’m really in favor of D.C. statehood, and I’m in favor of D.C. home rule,” said Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. On the other hand, the mayor objected to the bill, saying that it would not provide enough security…so I am confused.”

Jean-Pierre repeatedly sidestepped questions about how Biden’s decision to substitute his own rule and that of Congress for the will of the city’s elected representatives squared with his previous support for autonomy in the region.

“The decision he’s making, he’s making for the people of the capital,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Black Caucus pledged to work quickly to try to sway the Senate against the bill before an expected vote next week.

“We need to make sure the Senate understands the full impact of taking away local decision-making, especially for the District of Columbia that doesn’t have representation in that way,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Stephen Horsford, D-Nev. “What the Senate does will matter.”

The crime legislation, which will come into force in 2025, has created some friction within the region’s government. In January, Mayor Bowser vetoed the bill, writing in a letter that she had “extremely significant concerns” about some of the bill’s proposals. She later proposed changes after the council overruled his veto.

In 2022, there were 203 homicides in the region, a decrease of about 10% after years of steady increases. Homicides in the city have risen for four straight years, and 2021’s homicide count of 227 was the highest since 2003. The city’s police union said in a statement that the changes “will cause violent crime rates to explode even more than they already are.”

But Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives, said criminal law reform was “very important” and the result of years of work by lawmakers, criminal justice experts and nonprofits that work with criminals.

“Any effort to overturn laws that were democratically enacted in the District of Columbia abridges the right of its nearly 700,000 residents and elected officials to self-government — a right enjoyed by nearly every other American,” D.C. Attorney Brian Schwalb said.

Although it has been more than three decades since Congress directly repealed a D.C. law, Congress has often used alternative methods to change local laws on issues from abortion funding to marijuana legalization.


Associated Press White House correspondent Zeke Miller, congressional correspondent Lisa Mascaro and AP writers Kevin Freking and Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.


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