Washington, DC’s, Soft-on-Crime Law Splinters Democrats and Biden, Creating GOP Opportunity

Police technicians survey the crime scene of the fatal shooting near the US Capital, Wedne
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

A controversial soft-on-crime bill has become law in the nation’s capital, but some congressional Democrats are working with Republicans to block the measure, presenting Republicans with an opportunity to politically isolate President Joe Biden from others in his party heading into 2024.

While some Senate Democrats have recently supported the measure to block the Washington, DC, soft-on-crime law, other Democrats want the soft-on-crime law to remain. According to the New York Times, Biden apparently supports the soft-on-crime law, once again casting the Democrat Party as the soft-on-crime coterie. The scenario is sure to splinter the Democrat Party ahead of 2024 and give Republicans an opportunity to highlight the Democrats’ “defund the police” policies.

The District’s criminal law, which reduced punishments for a variety of serious criminal offenses, was enacted by the District’s city council, which overrode the mayor’s veto — all while crime soared at the beginning of 2023. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, homicides have dramatically increased (25 percent), along with vehicle theft (111 percent), theft from auto (21 percent), theft (16 percent), and arson (300 percent).

Congress has the ability to override the local D.C. law via a resolution of disapproval, though it has been more than 30 years since it has exercised its power to do so. The resolution for disapproval could be put on the Senate floor in early March, setting up a showdown within the Democrat Party, including Biden, who has the ability to veto the congressional measure.

The resolution to override the soft-on-crime law has the support of all Senate Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), leaving Republicans one vote short to pass the resolution with a simple majority. It’s unclear whether Biden would sign the potential resolution to block the soft-on-crime law or veto it, allowing the law to remain.

Biden’s potential decision to veto the law raises 2024 implications. He has said he has the “intention” to launch a reelection campaign for 2024. But vetoing the measure would enhance the Republicans’ popular position on reducing crime. Political experts say Democrats lost many votes in 2020 and 2022 because of their soft-on-crime approach.

“None of that makes sense to me,” Manchin told the Times about the D.C. law’s mandatory minimum sentences. “I would rescind letting people out.”

Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) is unsure why Biden would want to “encourage” more crime in the District by reducing punishments. “I can’t believe President Biden wants to encourage more crime here in the District of Columbia,” he said.

Yet other senators disagree with Manchin and Hagerty. “The United States Congress should be not substituting its judgment for the elected representatives of the people of the District of Columbia,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) said.

The White House appears to agree with Hollen’s disapproval of shutting down the soft-on-crime law, indicating Biden could potentially veto the Senate’s measure. The White House told the Times the District should have the ability to self-govern, even though Congress has the legal authority to oversee the District’s governance.

“For far too long, the 700,000 residents of Washington, DC, have been deprived of full representation in the U.S. Congress,” the administration said.

Follow Wendell Husebø on Twitter @WendellHusebø. He is the author of Politics of Slave Morality.


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