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DC crime law becomes political ‘nightmare’ for Senate Democrats

DC crime law becomes political ‘nightmare’ for Senate Democrats

RE-Republicans are putting Senate Democrats in a tough spot as the chamber prepares to vote on whether to overturn an overhaul of D.C.’s century-old penal code.

The Senate GOP hopes to force a vote on the updated code, which softens punishment for homicide, burglary and carjacking, as early as next week, opening Democrats to attacks for being soft on crime if they decide to oppose it. to repeal the GOP. . Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is unable to block the measure despite Democrats controlling the upper chamber, making the vote a rare opportunity for the GOP to hold senators in states of battle on the issue.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), considered one of the most vulnerable senators heading into 2024, became the first Democrat on Monday to publicly support the legislation.


“I can’t stand it [the criminal code overhaul]. I mean, I want to push people away. I don’t want to let them out,” Manchin told CNN. “They haven’t briefed me, but what I know about it, I would vote to rescind it.”

Manchin’s support gives the resolution a strong chance of passing the Senate, where Democrats hold just a 51-49 majority. The absence of Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) cuts the Democratic majority to 50-49, further improving the measure’s odds.

Fetterman is currently out of the Senate while being treated for depression at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. It is unclear how long he will be out.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), who is up for re-election in 2024 and is also considered a vulnerable incumbent, is undecided on the issue.

“I have to look at it. … I just don’t know what it does,” Tester said Tuesday. “There’s the problem of ‘DC does what DC wants to do,’ but we have some oversight.”

Manchin has not yet announced whether he plans to run for another term, but Tester launched his re-election bid last week. A vote for the GOP-led resolution could prove dangerous for either senator, as both will be running for re-election in reliably red states.

“From a political standpoint, this is a nightmare for Democrats,” John Feehery, a GOP strategist, told the Washington Examiner.

Feehery stressed that voting against the measure would indicate support for a penal code that would reduce sentencing for violent crimes, an issue especially important to suburban voters, a crucial voting bloc, amid a rise in crime in the whole country

“I think there’s going to be a lot of Democrats who are going to have to vote for this thing,” Feehery said. “Then if the president vetoes it, they’ll have to vote on it again, which is even worse.”

Local lawmakers have repeatedly pushed back against congressional efforts to repeal city laws, arguing that it interferes with their right to local autonomy. D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb went further, arguing that the effort to overturn the penal code fails to recognize the provisions actually included in the overhaul.

“All senators charged with the important work they are doing should do their homework. And part of that is reaching people who might know more about the bill and how it’s going to make DC a safer place,” Schwalb told the Washington Examiner, noting that no member of Congress has contact his office to discuss the penal code. “I’m available anytime, anywhere to talk about the bill, to share with them my views on it, especially for Senator Manchin, [who said] he has not studied it at all. My hope is that he and his staff will keep an open mind and allow themselves to be fully informed before making a decision.”

Schwalb denounced the legislation as an effort to use Washington, D.C., as a way to score political points before a crucial election cycle.

“We have a very divisive national political discourse right now … where Republicans and Democrats on the national stage are trying to score points against each other,” he said. “This is not about public safety in the District of Columbia. This is about using the District of Columbia as a pawn in a national political game.”

The vote comes after the D.C. City Council overwhelmingly approved a bill last year that would implement a massive overhaul of the city’s criminal code, completing a project that district lawmakers have been working on for 16 years. years. The rewritten legislation sought to clarify and reduce penalties for criminal offenses, with local lawmakers arguing that severe punishments often do not deter crime.

Several Republicans in Congress criticized the changes, claiming the law would inflame violent crime. As a result, Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate introduced legislation that would repeal the local law, which, if successful, would mark the first time in three decades that Congress has passed a resolution overturning the district

Republicans introduced the measure shortly after taking control of the House last month, seeking to assert control over the already limited self-government currently allowed in Washington, D.C. While the City Council can pass local legislation, all laws are subject to congressional approval because Washington is not a state.


The resolution passed the House in a vote of 250 to 173 on February 9, with 31 Democrats joining Republicans.

If the bill passes the Senate, it would still need President Joe Biden’s signature to repeal the district’s criminal code. Biden has voiced his opposition to Republican efforts to overturn the laws, but has not explicitly threatened to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

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