President Biden on Monday signed into law legislation that would overturn a District of Columbia crime bill, a controversial move that has angered the progressive wing of his party for weeks.
Republicans championed the resolution of disapproval that would block the implementation of the D.C. law, which aimed to eliminate most mandatory sentences, lower penalties for a number of violent offenses like carjackings and robberies, and expand the requirement for jury trials in most misdemeanor cases.
Biden’s support for the bill, which 33 Senate Democrats voted in favor of, has been criticized as being in conflict with his stance supporting D.C. statehood and the Democratic Party’s typical support for D.C. home rule. The bill’s passage marked the first time in more than three decades that a D.C.-passed bill has been nixed by Congress and the White House. Mayor Muriel Bowser had vetoed the measure, which the city council overrode.
The president’s support for the legislation is a reflection of how the White House is trying to navigate the politically charged issue of crime in a bid to counter Republican-led messaging that Democrats are soft on crime.
The president announced on March 2 that he wouldn’t veto the measure, causing an uproar from some House Democrats who said they felt blindsided by the move. They also took issue with what they viewed as an about-face from the White House after they issued a Statement of Administration Policy on Feb. 6 that said the White House opposed the House resolution to overrule the D.C. law. The statement though did not explicitly state that Biden would veto the measure if it came to his desk.
The House passed the resolution in a 250 to 173 vote, with 31 Democrats voting with all Republicans. The bill then passed overwhelmingly in the Senate on March 8, with 33 Democrats voting alongside every Republican and Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.).
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) both backed the resolution, as well as the most vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2024: Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio). Biden’s support for the bill has been viewed as political cover for vulnerable Democrats in 2024.
Biden’s move to sign the bill aligns with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s stance on it. The legislation was unanimously approved by the D.C. City Council in January and the mayor tried to veto it, but then the council overrode the veto in a 12-1 vote last month.
Supporters of overturning the D.C. crime bill point to the provisions in it that would lower penalties for a number of violent crimes, including robberies and carjackings. Biden specifically mentioned the sentences for carjacking in explaining his reasoning for not vetoing the legislation.
The White House has worked to tried to present Biden, who historically has been a centrist, as supportive of law enforcement and interested in lowering crime and community violence. The effort comes after Republicans elevated crime throughout the 2022 midterms, accusing the White House and Democrats of being too lenient.