The Senate voted 81-14 on Wednesday to block the Washington, D.C. city council’s dramatic overhaul of its criminal code that Republicans and many Democrats complained would ease criminal penalties in a city that is already suffering from rising crime rates.
In the final vote, only 14 Democrats voted against the resolution aimed at reversing the D.C. law, which was originally the product of the House’s new Republican majority. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and most other Democrats voted to kill the D.C. crime law.
Once the resolution is signed by the president, as is expected, it will mark the first time Congress has acted to roll back DC’s own self-imposed regulations in more than 30 years, a power Congress has under the Constitution.
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Republicans said Democrats, including President Biden, were forced to accept the resolution because the reality of soaring crime in the nation’s capital can’t be ignored.
“We’re the greatest superpower nation history. This is our capital city. But local politicians have let the streets become a danger and an embarrassment,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said before the vote on Wednesday.
The vote followed a few weeks of frustration for Biden’s allies, as the White House sent conflicting messages on the resolution.
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Last month, after Biden indicated he opposed the resolution that would gut the D.C. law, just 31 House Democrats joined the Republican majority to pass it. Reports suggested that many Democrats who voted against it felt like Biden left them high and dry when he reversed course and said he would not veto it if it came to his desk.
“The White House put out a formal statement opposing us,” McConnell said of the White House reversal. “The vast majority of House Democrats voted against us, but then President Biden had an epiphany, he reversed himself. The public pressure was so great, the president now says he wants to sign the same Republican bill that he’d previously announced he opposed.”
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., told reporters after Biden’s about-face last week that he was “disappointed” in the president’s decision.
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“First of all, I hope the Senate would not pass it, but I think it’s pretty clear they will. And to me, the Congress should not substitute its judgment for the elected representatives of the people in the District of Columbia. I wouldn’t want them to do that for Baltimore, I don’t want them to do that for any of our other local jurisdictions,” Cardin said at the time.
The proposed DC law would have lowered the maximum penalties for crimes such as carjackings and robberies, while raising them for murders. Nearly all misdemeanor cases would also include the right to a jury trial.
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The Senate forged ahead with the vote even after DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he would scrap the new law and tried to withdraw it from congressional review earlier this week. Mayor Muriel Bowser opposed the bill and vetoed it – though the council overrode her veto.