WASHINGTON — The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to block a new criminal law in the District of Columbia that cuts minimum mandatory penalties for some violent crimes, as Democrats bowed to Republican pressure to take a hard line on crime in a move that highlighted the United States’ growing political clout. The topic is before the 2024 elections.
The vote of 81-14, with one senator voting “present,” approved the measure Republicans wrote to overturn the district law, sending it to President Biden, who initially opposed it. It changed course abruptly last week He said he would sign it.
This was an abrupt turn of events for the Borough Council and its reform of local statutes. And just a few weeks ago, Mr. Biden opposed Congress’s action to block it, accusing Republicans of meddling in local affairs.
But high-profile carjackings and murders in the capital, and mounting evidence across the country that voters were casting their ballots based on candidates’ responses to violent crime, prompted a rapid backtracking. Dozens of House Democrats have joined Republicans in opposing the district’s criminal law, and a growing number of Senate Democrats have indicated they are inclined to follow suit, turning Biden.
On Wednesday, 31 Democrats and two independents joined Republicans in supporting a resolution not to approve the criminal law and send it to the president for his signature. Senator Raphael Warnock, Democrat of Georgia, voted “present.”
Republicans used the power of Congress to review all county laws, and forced confrontation in an attempt to paint Democrats as weak law enforcers. They said the finding showed that any trend toward leniency had come to an end.
“We need to make sure that we’re sending a strong message that the American public suffers from crime in America,” said Senator Bill Haggerty of Tennessee, a senior author of the Republican resolution. “The crime wave that is happening in our major cities must come to an end.”
But if Democrats hope their opposition to the new criminal law will stem Republican attacks on their party’s image on crime in next year’s election, they are likely to be disappointed based on comments made by Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader. .
McConnell said: “No one will confuse the Democrats in Washington’s last-minute reversal of this decision for the road-to-Damascus moment on the crime issue.” “The American people are much smarter than that.”
The strong vote in the Senate against the criminal law — and an earlier vote in the House of Representatives that drew 31 Democrats — was a major setback for the home rule of the District of Columbia, which in recent years seemed to be gaining ground in its efforts to achieve statehood. Nor was it left unhindered by the Democratic-controlled Congress. It was the first time in 30 years that Congress had thwarted a local law.
Local officials regretted the interference and tried to withdraw the criminal law before it was rejected by the Senate. But the process of blocking it had already begun, and Congress ignored the attempt to block the outcome.
The rewriting of the criminal code, which took years to prepare, also divided local officials. The law was overturned by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, who was passed over by the District Council. But her opposition opened the door for Democrats to drop their usual support for the district and vote to repeal the law.
The White House’s handling of the issue has angered House Democrats, who felt ignored by the president after he said early last month that he would oppose the veto. As a result, when the matter came to the House in early February, most Democrats backed the county and voted against efforts to overturn the ruling package, believing they were on the side of the president, who would veto it.
Instead, Biden arrived on Capitol Hill last week and told Senate Democrats at a private lunch that he would sign the measure if it reached his desk, undermining House Democrats and district officials. He said the crime legislation went too far despite his support for home rule for the District of Columbia. White House officials noted that the president never explicitly pledged to veto the measure, but that the administration opposed it.
Some Senate Democrats sided with the district and argued that democratically elected officials should be free to write their own laws without being subject to Congress. Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who is active on criminal justice issues, defended the boycott law at a party luncheon Tuesday, according to senators who attended.
In a speech on Wednesday, Mr Booker described the intervention in the region’s affairs as “patronage and paternalism” and said it was aimed at scoring political points. He noted that the new criminal code will significantly increase penalties for crimes such as attempted murder, sexual assault and weapons offences.
“This body now, in a political impulse, will prevent the city from protecting itself,” Booker said.
But the president’s backtracking, the mayor’s veto and growing public concern about violent crime have led most Democrats to rally behind the blockade, including Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, as well as Senators from neighboring Virginia Mark Warner and Tim. Ken. Mr. Kane is among the senators who will be re-elected next year. Democrats from Maryland, the other neighboring state, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, “No.”
Taking advantage of their control of the House of Representatives And the Republicans took advantage of the ability to undo the regulations of the Biden administration To score political points under the ambiguous Congressional Review Act, which allows for speedy review of Senate resolutions and avoids a filibuster. Senate last week He approved a resolution passed by the House of Representatives – Cancellation of some administrative rules related to the investment of retirement funds. And Mr. Biden has promised to veto that legislation.
On Friday, the House of Representatives is set to approve a repeal of the Biden administration’s regulation on water policy, which would force another showdown in the Senate over repealing the rule early next week. A threat to veto this measure was also made.