On Wednesday, the Senate is expected to hold a vote on a resolution disapproving of the DC City Council’s proposal to update the city’s criminal code, the first time Congress has taken such action in over 30 years.
Top House Democrats are expressing significant frustration behind the scenes due to the White House’s handling of the issue. Neither the White House nor the President gave DC Mayor Muriel Bowser a heads-up, and House Democrats were not informed that Biden decided to sign the override legislation. According to Jean-Pierre, Biden “wanted to make sure that he delivered for the 700,000 residents of DC in a way that was protecting the residents here.”
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries reportedly did not know Biden’s support for the resolution until it was revealed during the President’s closed-door lunch with Senate Democrats.
Last week, President Biden said he would help Congress override legislation passed by the DC Council for the first time in over three decades. The original DC legislation reform would have reduced maximum penalties for certain crimes, including burglaries, robberies, carjackings, and scrapped some mandatory minimum sentences.
The White House has defended Biden’s decision by saying that the President never said he would veto the resolution. She referred to the Feb. 6 Statement of Administration Policy, which only criticized the GOP resolution without an explicit veto threat.
Jean-Pierre said that the President “expressed concern over certain provisions of the bill,” such as the reduced sentences for carjackings and similar crimes. In the past, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the bill, but the city council overrode the veto.
Following the House of Representatives measure to override the city council changes, President Biden said last week that he would sign the measure instead of vetoing it.
DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson wrote a letter to the Senate attempting to withdraw the DC criminal code reform measure.
“It’s clear that Congress is intending to override that legislation, and so my letter, just as I transmit bills for their review, withdraws from consideration of the review,” said Mendelson.
“If Republicans choose to go ahead with a hollow vote, that’s their choice,” Mendelson said. “If they vote, they will be voting on nothing.”
Jean-Pierre repeatedly noted that President Biden believes in DC statehood and will continue supporting cities’ and states’ right to self-govern.
“Any effort to overturn the District of Columbia’s democratically enacted laws degrades the right of its nearly 700,000 residents and elected officials to self-govern,” said Brian Schwalb the Attorney General for the District of Columbia.
In a tweet last Thursday, Biden explained his position by emphasizing the reduced carjacking penalties.
“I support DC statehood and home rule — but I don’t support some of the changes DC Council put forward over the Mayor’s objections — such as lowering penalties for carjackings. If the Senate votes to overturn what the DC Council did — I’ll sign it,” stated the President.
Advocates for DC statehood argue that this recent episode has resulted in a significant setback for their cause. They believe that the President’s actions have emboldened opponents of statehood.