President Joe Biden signed legislation on Monday to repeal changes to the District of Columbia penal code, breaking with his party’s progressive wing and taking a tough stance on crime ahead of his pending re-election bid.
Earlier this month, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a GOP-backed measure that would repeal changes to the Washington, D.C. Penal Code. The House of Representatives passed the resolution in February. Ahead of the Senate vote, Biden, who has come under fire from Republicans for what they call his soft stance on crime, said he would not veto the bill if Congress passed it, surprising members of his own party.
“I support D.C. statehood and self-government, but I do not support some of the changes made by the D.C. Council over the mayor’s objections, such as reducing car theft fines,” Biden wrote in his letter. tweet. “If the Senate votes to reverse the D.C. Board decision, I will sign it.”
Late last year, the District of Columbia Council revised the city’s criminal code for the first time in a century, NBC Washington reported. The bill would change Washington’s approach to crime by eliminating most of the mandatory minimum sentences and reducing the mandatory maximum sentences. Mayor Muriel Bowser opposed the changes to the city’s criminal code, saying they would not make the nation’s capital safer. But she urged Congress, which has the power to review laws made by the city so as not to interfere with the sovereignty of the county.
At a rally ahead of the Senate vote on the measure, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives, called the legislation “an attack on home rule.”
“We come together today with one simple message to Congress and President Biden: Keep your hands off DC,” Norton, a Democrat, said. “You either support DC home rule or you don’t. There are no exceptions, and there is no middle ground for the District of Columbia’s right to self-government.”
Following Biden’s announcement, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelsohn attempted to withdraw the measure from Congress and prevent its repeal, but Senate leadership aides said it was too late to withdraw the measure.
Several Democrats in the Senate defeated the resolution, reaffirming their support for D.C. statehood and arguing that it simply brought the city’s penal code in line with other states.
Senator Chris Murphy, D-C, wrote in tweet that the debate on the bill had “gone a bit off the rails”.
“This reduces the maximum auto theft limit to 24 years, but it IS compliant with many state requirements,” he wrote. “And the bill INCREASES sentences for attempted murder, attempted sexual assault, misdemeanor sexual assault, and many other crimes.”
“When you actually read the bill, compare it to the penal codes of other states, it stuns me that it is somehow perverted and distorted to be seen as some kind of weak punishment for people who do bad things. Sen. Corey Booker, DN.J., said in a caucus ahead of the Senate vote.
But Sen. Bill Hagerty, of Tennessee, who sponsored the Senate resolution, said in a statement that residents and visitors to the capital can “breathe easier today” after Biden signed the bill.