Pelosi, Democrats Blast Biden Over DC Crime Bill

President Joe Biden’s announcement that he will not veto a Republican-led resolution to repeal parts of the District of Columbia’s new crime bill has drawn criticism from prominent Democrats, including former House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Speaking at a University of Chicago event, Pelosi said that if Biden was going to allow the resolution to pass, he should have informed Democratic House members beforehand. Biden had earlier met with Senate Democrats to inform them of his intentions to sign the resolution.

Biden defended his decision in a tweet, saying, “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. If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did — I’ll sign it.”

The resolution seeks to overturn a controversial law passed by the D.C. City Council to revise the capital’s criminal code. The D.C. Council passed the law in November 2022, but Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed it. The council then overrode the veto earlier this year.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who represents D.C. in Congress, expressed disappointment with Biden’s decision, saying she hoped he would change his mind.

The law’s opponents argue that it would reduce criminal penalties for violent crimes like carjackings and expand access to jury trials for certain misdemeanor offenses that would stretch the capacity of an already overwhelmed court system. Supporters of the law argue that addressing the recent surge in crime in the nation’s capital is necessary.

The GOP-led House already approved a bill that sets aside the crime law last month. All Republicans and 31 Democrats voted to overturn the bill. The vote occurred the same day Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN) was attacked in her D.C. apartment building. Craig voted with Republicans to overturn the law.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has already said he will vote with Senate Republicans to overturn the D.C. crime bill. That virtually ensures it will pass in the upper chamber, as it requires only a simple majority to pass under an exception to the filibuster rule. Democrats are also currently missing one vote as Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) is absent while he is seeking mental health treatment.

Congress has legislative power over Washington, D.C., provided by the U.S. Constitution and the 1973 District of Columbia Home Rule Act. That law expressly gives Congress the power to block any legislation passed by the D.C. Council. While rarely used, it is not unprecedented.

The decision not to veto the resolution could provide political cover for Biden, who will undoubtedly face arguments that he is soft on crime ahead of his likely 2024 reelection bid. However, it has drawn criticism from Democrats who support D.C. statehood and argue that the city should be able to govern itself without federal interference.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) voiced her support for D.C. statehood, saying, “For me, this just speaks to why D.C. statehood should be voted on, and I’m very much in support because we should not decide these issues for the D.C. people. They should have their own representatives doing that.”