Congress’s Move to Turn Back D.C. Crime Law Earns Biden’s Unexpected Support
The District of Columbia city council’s decision to adopt statutes that soften penalties for serious crimes last fall prompted Congressman Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) to introduce a bill to undo the city’s rewrite of its criminal code.
Clyde, who represents Georgia’s 9th district, introduced a resolution of disapproval in November, which, if adopted, will block the district’s Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022. The bill, H.J. Res. 26, passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support (250-173).
The congressman said the D.C. council’s decision to reduce maximum sentences for violent crimes, given the rising rate in the district, was surprising in an appearance on “Washington Watch” last Friday.
“It’s incredible that they would want to do this,” he told host and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, stunned that the city would want to relax penalties “when crime is on the rise in D.C.” Clyde noted “D.C. is on pace to have the most homicides since 1995.”
Perkins agreed, saying, “The city is out of control, as are many major cities across the country.” He pointed out that more than a few politicians have come face to face with the city’s crime issue, which may explain their willingness to support the resolution.
“It comes down to the Democrats wanting to get tough on crime when it becomes personal. And we’ve seen that a number of members of Congress and their staffs in D.C. have been the victims of crime,” Perkins explained.
“The D.C. Council wants to make it even easier for criminals to commit crimes by reducing their sentences,” Clyde said. “So absolutely, it’s imperative that we take down this law from the council and Congress has the authority to do it.”
Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution gives Congress the power to “exercise exclusive Legislation” over the District of Columbia — an action not taken in over 30 years.
Yet the decision, rare as it might be, for Congress to involve itself in the governmental affairs of the district, received a surprising ally Wednesday when President Joe Biden appeared to reverse course and declare his support of Clyde’s bill.
“I support D.C. Statehood and home-rule — but I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the Mayor’s objections — such as lowering penalties for carjackings,” Biden wrote in a tweet March 1. “If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did — I’ll sign it.”
Clyde told Perkins the president’s move was appreciated. “I was pleasantly surprised and actually very encouraged because I think President Biden is actually seeing what needs to be done here,” he explained.
The Georgia congressman went on to say there may well be more to the president’s support than meets the eye. There are a number of Democrats in the Senate who are up for reelection in 2024 and who do not want to be labeled as being “soft on crime” with a vote against the measure.
“Obviously, you’ve got some politics in play. You’ve got some senators in vulnerable seats that are up for reelection, and they don’t want to be voting against a bill that would make Washington, D.C., more safe,” Clyde said. “They don’t want to be seen as soft on crime so they want to be able to support this. And they can do that better if the president’s willing to support it.”
He said the U.S. Constitution deeds not only authority for oversight of the district to Congress, “It gives Congress the responsibility over the federal city.”
More than two dozen Democrat representatives joined their Republican colleagues February 10 in passing the resolution, when it was believed that Biden would veto the legislation if it reached his desk.
Reaction to the president’s signal that he would sign the measure sparked an outcry from a number of House Democrats.
In remarks on the house floor, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who represents the District of Columbia, called the resolution “profoundly undemocratic [and] paternalistic,” telling representatives to “keep your hands off D.C. If you want to legislate for D.C., become a D.C. resident and get elected mayor or councilmember.”
In a posting on the congresswoman’s website, she said the president’s statement of support made for a “sad day” for the district’s right to govern themselves. Norton went on to say, “I will continue to do everything within my power to persuade the president that signing or failing to veto the resolution would empower the paternalistic, anti-democratic Republican opposition to the principle of local control over local affairs.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) response was typical of other Democrats who felt jilted by Biden’s green-lighting of the resolution: “This ain’t it. DC has a right to govern itself, like any other state or municipality. If the President supports DC statehood, he should govern like it. Plenty of places pass laws the President may disagree with. He should respect the people’s gov of DC just as he does elsewhere.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), whose veto of the revisions to the criminal code by the city’s council was overridden 12-1, nonetheless expressed her concern with Congress’s “meddling in the affairs of the District of Columbia” on NBC’s “Meet the Press NOW” Friday “That’s a slippery slope, again, that we endure not just with bills like this. We have a lot of issues to overcome with limited home rule."
Representative Clyde said Congress has an obligation to do the right thing for public safety, despite the objections of those who say self-governance trumps all else.
“This city is for all of America. That means our constituents are coming to D.C. to visit us in Washington, and they need to feel safe while doing that,” he continued. “It's our responsibility, and we are acting on it. It's a promise made and a promise kept that we are pro-law enforcement and we are going to pass laws that make our people and our city safer.”
In the Washington Post, Clyde, and Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), who is sponsoring the companion bill in the Senate, wrote: “Americans deserve to visit their nation’s capital without facing fear or violence. As our capital city, D.C. should serve as a beacon of freedom for all — at home and abroad. … Combating crime is not a conservative or liberal objective; it is a common-sense one.”
A senate vote on the resolution of disapproval is expected this week.
K.D. Hastings and his family live in the beautiful hills of Middle Tennessee. He has been engaged in the evangelical world as a communicator since 1994.