Senate votes to block controversial DC crime bill

Senate votes to block controversial DC crime bill

(CNN) The Senate passed a Republican-led resolution Wednesday to block a controversial anti-crime bill in Washington, D.C., that opponents have criticized as weak on crime. The measure will then go to President Joe Biden, who has said he will not veto it.

The effort to block the crime bill divided Democrats and highlighted the difficult balance the party is trying to strike as Republicans accuse them of failing to address crime.

While a large number of Democrats ultimately supported the resolution, Biden’s announcement that he would not veto it surprised and upset members of his own party as many believe Congress should not interfere in district politics.

Democrats control a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate, where most legislation requires at least 60 votes to pass to overcome a hurdle. The resolution of disapproval to block the DC crime bill, however, only required a simple majority vote in the Senate.

The D.C. Council Speaker attempted to withdraw the legislation from congressional consideration after it became clear that the resolution of disapproval was on track to pass the Senate with broad support. But that recall effort didn’t stop the Senate vote from moving forward.

The vote marked the latest effort by Republicans to put vulnerable Senate Democrats on the spot and expose divisions within the party on politically charged issues.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed a resolution to overturn a Biden administration retirement investment rule that Republicans claim pushes a liberal agenda on Americans and will hurt retirees’ bottom lines. Democrats have objected, saying it is not about ideology and will help investors, and the administration has said the president will veto the measure.

The legislative battle exposes democratic divisions

Biden’s announcement that he would not veto efforts to block the D.C. crime bill caught many congressional Democrats off guard — and came after the administration had previously issued a statement saying it opposed the resolution of disapproval. “Congress must respect the autonomy of the District of Columbia to govern its own local affairs,” the statement said.

The House passed the resolution in February before Biden’s veto, with 173 Democrats voting against it. At the time, the understanding among Democrats was that Biden opposed the bill — in no small part because of the White House’s statement that it opposed it.

In an apparent attempt to outline his reasoning, Biden tweeted in early March, “I support DC statehood and home rule — but I don’t support some of the changes the DC Council made over objections of the mayor — like reducing sentences for carjackings. If the Senate votes to reverse what the DC Council did — I’ll sign it.”

The controversial crime bill was initially vetoed by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, with Bowser saying in a statement at the time that the bill “doesn’t make us any safer.” In a letter to the D.C. council president, Bowser expressed concern that “the council significantly reduced the penalties for robbery, car theft and home invasion.”

The council, however, voted to override the mayor’s veto. “Decades of dramatic increases in incarceration have not been a solution to rising crime,” said a statement from the council on overturning the veto.

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Some Democrats contend that the public debate over the crime bill has lacked nuance, pointing to policies that conflict with the “soft on crime” messaging around the bill.

“The debate over DC’s felony law has gone a little off the rails. It lowers the maximum for carjacking to 24 years, but that’s consistent with many states. And the bill INCREASE sentences for attempted murder, attempted sexual assault, misdemeanor sexual abuse and many other crimes,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted earlier this week.

Meanwhile, Republicans have called the D.C. crime bill dangerous and irresponsible.

“Congress has a duty to oversee Washington, DC — a federal district where people should be safe to live and work. The District should set a nationwide example by passing legislation that makes its residents and visitors safer — not less safe,” Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, a lead sponsor of the resolution in the Senate, said in a statement.

This news and headline has been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.

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