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Pelosi upset with Biden over DC crime bill veto

By Savannah Hamilton
|
March 5, 2023

President Biden, on Thursday, voiced his support for the Republican-backed bill that would block the overhaul of the newly proposed criminal justice bill in D.C.. Many Democrats, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were not thrilled with Biden’s decision, which escalated tensions within the party.

Shocked by his decision, Pelosi responded with, “If he was going to do it I wish he would’ve told us first, because this was a hard vote for the House members. And it’s a hard vote for the Senate members. And the mayor of the District of Columbia even differed from the legislators who passed it, so it wasn’t that clear.”

Her criticism of the president was unexpected, considering that she’s generally supported most of his decisions.

The Crime Bill, Explained

D.C.’s criminal code has not been updated since 1901 when it was first drafted, so local lawmakers have been working on modernizing it for the last two decades. Since the rise of BLM especially, city officials have argued that the district’s current laws are not only outdated but disproportionally discriminate against African Americans.

The proposed bill would soften criminal punishments in the district by eliminating most mandatory minimum sentences, raising the requirements for jury trials for misdemeanors, and even lowering penalties for violent crimes such as carjackings, burglaries, and robberies. 

If approved, it would go into effect as early as 2025.

Considering that crime rates in Washington have been climbing, and 2021 saw the district’s highest murder rate in 20 years, many Republicans saw this bill as a threat to citizen safety.

Even some Democrats believe that this bill is too soft on crime.

The bill was passed by D.C.’s city council in January, despite a veto by the Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser. Now, there is a new bill backed by Republicans to overturn the efforts, which was recently passed by the House despite 173 of the 212 Democrats voting against it.

The overturn is expected to be voted on in the Senate this week. Despite the Senate having a Democratic majority, the bill is expected to pass, especially after Biden’s bold statement.

“If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did — I’ll sign it,” tweeted Biden, adding, “I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the mayor’s objections — such as lowering penalties for carjackings.”

Blindsided by Biden

Biden’s unprecedented move would allow Congress to have the final say in the district’s laws for the first time in over 30 years. This, on its own, is causing more chaos than the details of the crime bill itself.

Although D.C. has largely been allowed to self-govern, the district does not have voting rights in Congress at the end of the day. And since the discussion of statehood and representation has been raised repeatedly in recent years, Biden’s “interference” is seen as a threat to the district’s hopes for independence. 

“I’m a big supporter of statehood for the District of Columbia. I voted with the District of Columbia,” said Pelosi, knowing well that Biden has long been on the city’s side.

Pelosi is not the only Democrat to be blindsided by Biden, with one House Democrat stating, “The White House f—ed up royally.”

Rep. Steven Horsford (NV-04) also proclaimed, “We need to make sure the Senate understands the full effect of taking away local decision-making, particularly for the District of Columbia that does not have representation in that manner. What the Senate does will matter.”

However, Biden’s take has also led some Democratic members to question their previous stance. Hawaii’s Senator Mazie Hirono, for example, explained, “On the one hand, I really support D.C. statehood, I support D.C. home rule. On the other hand, the mayor vetoed the bill saying that it would not provide enough safety … so I am torn.”

Ongoing arguments about the bill and Biden’s decision are exposing tensions within the Democratic Party, and leading political experts to question if Biden is losing his own side’s support.