Biden sides with GOP on new D.C. crime laws

For the first time in 30 years, the President’s signature would allow Congress to overturn a D.C. decision…reports T.N. Ashok

US President Joe Biden said he will sign off on a Republican-backed resolution that seeks to override Washington’s District of Columbia’s new controversial crime laws on sentencing.

Initially, the Biden administration had some reservations on the Republican resolution on grounds of Congressional intervention in the laws.

The District of Columbia has sought to rewrite the crime laws on the period of sentencing for crimes.

For the first time in 30 years, the President’s signature would allow Congress to overturn a D.C. decision.

“I support D.C. statehood and home-rule,” Biden said in a statement.

“But I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the mayor’s objections — such as lowering penalties for carjacking. If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did � I’ll sign it,” the USA today quoted the President as saying.

What actually led to the D.C. rewriting the laws for reducing sentences for specific offences?

Late last year, the D.C. City Council approved a new local criminal code that includes the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for many crimes and the reduction of maximum sentences for crimes such as robbery and burglary, media reports said.

The Council overrode a veto from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has expressed serious concerns over reduction of sentences for crimes.

The local ordinance’s passage has been in the works for almost two decades to redo D.C.’s crime laws. Republicans were quick to oppose it.

In recent years, they have been very critical of Democrats going soft on crime. Washington reportedly had its highest number of murders in 2022 in nearly 20 years, the reports said.

Some 31 Democrats crossed the floor joining republicans to vote against the new legislation which is expected to secure bipartisan support in the Senate that could happen as early as next week.

Under the US Constitution, Congress is vested with powers to overturn local D.C. legislation.

Biden’s rejection of the new law and some Democrats’ decision to override it is an about turn on the White House Office of Management statement on February 6 this year, that “Congress should respect the District of Columbia’s autonomy to govern its own local affairs”.

It was indeed a major political dilemma for President Biden to oppose his own partymen.

He was faced with a political question on whether to let the resolution become law or veto it and face criticism that he was going soft on crime during the 2024 presidential election. Obviously, it was a shrewd political decision to go against the latter option.

Biden, had been distancing himself from the “defund the police” campaign of the left.

If he had penned the D.C. legislation, he would have been the but end of Republican propaganda in an election year of 2024.

The question is whether Biden’s decision will please many activists who have been trying to influence him to introduce police and justice reforms in the country.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did some tight rope walking with reporters on the issue when she said Biden believes every city “has the right to self-government” but also wants to keep communities safe.

“This is different,” Jean-Pierre said. “The D.C. Council put changes forward over the mayor’s objections, and the president doesn’t support changes like lowering penalties for carjacking.”

The Republican sponsor Senatir Bill Hagerty from Tennessee was quite happy with Biden’s decision.

“I hope these reports are true and that President Biden is no longer threatening to veto my common sense resolution to block the soft-on-crime DC Crime Bill. Reducing violent crime should not be controversial.”

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