Biden will not stop pushing to overturn a law in the US capital. Here’s why | Politics News
Washington, DC – United States President Joe Biden has angered progressives by vowing not to block a congressional measure that would stop the criminal justice reform law in Washington, DC.
Mr. Biden’s decision, which was announced on Thursday, started a debate on two different topics: Washington’s right to self-determination and the promotion of public safety as an important issue in current US politics.
Earlier this year, the Washington city council passed a legal reform bill that would reduce some sentences and remove minimums for certain crimes, measures that supporters say are aimed at the penal code update town.
But because Washington is the seat of the federal government, the US Congress has the authority to veto local laws in the Democratic-led district. It was quickly absorbed, with Republicans introducing the law to criticize Democrats as “soft on crime”.
The US House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal the DC law last month, with 31 mostly Democrats joining Republicans to approve the measure. The Senate is expected to take up the legislation next week and presumably, some Democrats are expected to rejoin Republicans in their effort.
The White House initially opposed Congressional efforts to overturn the local law in DC, asking legislators to “respect the independence of the District of Columbia to govern its own local affairs”.
But Biden countered this week, saying he would not block the Republican-led bill.
“I support DC Statehood and home rule – but I don’t support some of the changes the DC Council put forward over the Mayor’s complaints – such as reducing penalties for carjackings,” Biden wrote on Twitter. “If the Senate votes to reverse what the DC Council did – I will sign it.”
Increase in crime
Washington, like several other large cities across the country, has seen a sharp rise in violent crime in recent years, with murders and car thefts on the rise since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
For example, the area saw 203 murders in 2022, a slight decrease from the previous year but well above levels in 2019, when 166 people were killed in the city.
Carjacking has also been a problem for DC residents. There have been 1,182 vehicle thefts this year, a 111 percent increase from the same time in 2022, according to police data.
But supporters of the D.C. criminal justice reform measure, known as the Revised Penal Code Act, argue that the law simply updates an outdated system that hasn’t been revised in more than 100 years.
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the law, but the city council overrode her veto in a 12-1 vote in January.
The local bill would do away with mandatory minimum sentences for many crimes while capping their maximum sentences. Civil rights advocates have long argued that mandatory minimums contribute to prison overcrowding and exacerbate the racial bias in the US justice system.
However, Republicans seized on the D.C. law, which would take effect in 2025, to show their support for tougher criminal penalties.
“Today’s Democratic Party and its allies have decided that it is more important to sympathize with violent serial criminals than with innocent citizens who just want to live their lives,” Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this week.
Republicans have focused on public safety in their field for voters, often accusing Democrats of relaxing criminal penalties and not being supportive enough of law enforcement agencies.
In local elections in Chicago, San Francisco and New York over the past two years, voters have favored politicians who are seen as serious criminals.
Progressives say the answer to public safety concerns is more investments in communities, youth programs and education, not harsher prison sentences, pointing out that conservative states have also seen an increase in crime.
Beyond the meaning of the DC law, Mr. Biden’s move has alarmed many autonomy supporters in Washington, home to more than 700,000 residents, most of whom are people of color. The city is the only place in the US without any transportation representation.
Seats in the US Senate and House of Representatives are assigned to states. But the nation’s founders refused to make DC a state, fearing the region would become too powerful.
Washington has a mayor and city council that run its municipal affairs, but Congress has the power to overturn local laws in the area.
Signs lamenting “taxation without representation” and calling for statehood are not an unusual sight across the city. Washington has a higher population than the states of Wyoming and Vermont. But recent efforts to grant statehood to the area have met with Republican opposition.
The city is very liberal. Biden won more than 93 percent of the votes in DC against his predecessor Donald Trump in the 2020 elections. DC statehood would certainly translate into two more Senate seats and one House member for the Democrats.
In 2020 and 2021, the House voted to make DC the 51st US state, but the push was stalled in the Senate, where a legislative procedure known as the filibuster requires 60 votes to pass. major legislation to pass in the chamber with 100 members.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington’s non-voting representative in Congress, expressed disappointment in Mr. Biden’s position on Thursday.
“Today has been a sad day for DC home rule and DC residents’ right to self-determination, which President Biden himself highlighted in his administration’s Administration Policy Statement just issued a few weeks ago,” Norton said in a statement.