Senate Rebukes D.C. Crime Bill Reducing Sentences for Violent Offenses
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday issued a shocking rebuke to the District of Columbia’s city council, voting against a measure (H.J. Res. 26) that would comprehensively reduce sentences for violent crimes by a vote of 81-14. The U.S. House carried the resolution 250-173 on February 9. Under federal law, acts passed by the D.C. city council must undergo congressional review before they can take effect.
The White House initially issued a “Statement of Administration Policy” opposing H.J. Res. 26, but President Biden reversed course on March 1, pledging in a tweet to sign the measure. The reversal angered House Democrats who voted against the measure on the assumption that the president would back them up. After Biden changed his position, the measure passed the Senate by a wider margin than in the House.
Two-thirds of Senate Democrats (33, to be exact) joined Republicans in voting for H.J. Res. 26, including some of the Senate’s most reliably progressive members, such as Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), President Pro Tempore Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and seven out of 11 other leaders of the Democratic Senate conference. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), who replaced Kamala Harris; Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who called abortion “the biggest fight of a generation;” Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), who sponsored the same-sex marriage bill; and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016 — all of these voted for this Republican-led resolution to nix D.C.’s crime bill.
Of the only 14 senators to vote against the resolution — and thus for D.C.’s crime bill — they represent only nine states. The delegations of five deep-blue states — Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont — voted “nay.” In four more deep-blue states — Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Oregon — the two Democratic senators split their votes for and against the resolution.
By contrast, in 10 states with two Democratic senators, both senators supported the resolution. This included battleground states like Arizona, Nevada, and New Hampshire, but it also included states with solid Democratic control, including Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, and Washington. One Democratic senator also voted “yea” from each of California, Delaware, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.
Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), John Fetterman (D-Pa.), and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) missed the vote; Feinstein and Fetterman were recently hospitalized.
Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) was the only senator to vote “Present.”
Recognizing their crime bill was likely to fail, the D.C. Council attempted to withdraw it from consideration before Congress on Monday. Unfortunately for them, federal law does not provide for such a motion, so the Senate did not recognize the withdrawal.
However the city council might have taken the hint much earlier, when D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) vetoed the bill and the editorial board of the left-wing Washington Post came out against it. Instead, they overrode Bowser’s veto 12-1 and set the stage for Congress’s rebuke.
The D.C. city council’s crime bill attempted to reduce sentences during a period of elevated crime. The city recorded 203 homicides in 2022, more than any year since 2003 except for 2021 (226 homicides). D.C. recorded 3,830 violent crimes and 23,472 property crimes in 2022, including 3,761 motor vehicle thefts. These numbers represent a slight decrease from 2021 — except for motor vehicle thefts, which are up 8% — but only because crimes spiked in 2020 and again in 2021.
“What we’ve got to do, if we really want to see homicides go down is keep bad guys with guns in jail. Because when they’re in jail, they can’t be in the community shooting people,” D.C. police chief Robert Contee said Monday. “That’s the thing that we need to do different. We need to keep violent people in jail. Right now, the average homicide suspect has been arrested 11 times prior to them committing a homicide. That is a problem.”
The progressive push to implement softer criminal sentences stems from the notion — rooted in critical race theory — that stern sentences perpetuate systemic racism in the criminal justice system because they disproportionately impact black Americans. Yet even in uber-liberal Washington, D.C., where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 14 to one, a black mayor and a black police chief — those actually charged with keeping citizens safe — have rejected this notion as unworkable. So, too, have both chambers of Congress, whose ability to legislate in safety would be directly impacted by D.C.’s radical crime bill.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.