(Headline USA) President Joe Biden on Monday signed into law legislation nullifying the recent overhaul of the District of Columbia criminal code, but the fight between Congress and local lawmakers is continuing.
The signature merely marks the end of a raucous first chapter in a saga that has left district lawmakers bitterly nursing their political bruises and harboring fresh resentments against national Democrats for their betrayal as some fear a 2024 reckoning about the Left’s support for pro-criminal measures that have led to an epidemic of urban violence over the past three years.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., hailed the bipartisan move in a statement, calling it the end of what he labeled a “soft-on-crime criminal code rewrite that treated violent criminals like victims and discarded the views of law enforcement.”
Although Congress plays a unique role, carved out by the U.S. Constitution, in overseeing the capital city’s affairs, McCarthy also put other blue-run cities with woke, George Soros-backed officials on notice that reforms would soon be at their doorstep.
“This is just the beginning,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said earlier this month in a celebratory signing ceremony after the vote to cancel the new criminal code passed the Senate with significant Democratic support. “It is a message for the entire nation.”
D.C. Council members fretted that McCarthy and company might further rein in their municipal extremism, as well.
“I’m afraid that we’re going to see more of this for the remainder of this Congress,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said. “Does this raise a concern that there are going to be other issues? Yes.”
When congressional passage of the measure appeared inevitable and Biden indicated he would sign it, the D.C. Council withdrew the measure. But the move did not spare Biden a politically charged decision on whether to endorse the congressional action.
Biden did not issue a statement accompanying the signing Monday. But he tweeted earlier this month that while he supported a constitutionally prohibited D.C. statehood initiative being pushed by radical progressives, “I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the mayor’s objections—such as lowering penalties for carjackings.”
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.
— President Biden (@POTUS) March 2, 2023
Under terms of Washington’s Home Rule authority, the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability essentially vets all new D.C. laws and frequently alters or limits them through budget riders. But the criminal code rewrite is the first law to be completely overturned since 1991.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., has pledged that his committee “stands ready to conduct robust oversight of America’s capital city.”
EThe Oversight Committee recently sent letters summoning Mendelson, D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen and D.C. Chief Financial Officer Glen Lee to testify at a March 29 hearing concerning “general oversight of the District of Columbia, including crime, safety, and city management.”
Other House Republicans have already identified areas of concern. Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia has introduced a resolution to block an anti-police law known as the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act.
Most aspects of that law were passed by the D.C. Council on an emergency basis in 2020, amid nationwide race riots over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis while in police custody.
The law, made permanent in December 2022, bans the use of chokeholds by police officers, makes police disciplinary files available to the public, weakens the bargaining power of the police union and limits the use of tear gas to disperse protestors.
“Now that Congress has effectively used its constitutional authority to strike down the D.C. Council’s dangerous Revised Criminal Code Act, we must now move to swiftly block this anti-police measure to ensure our nation’s capital city is safe for all Americans,” Clyde said in a statement.
Clyde has publicly stated that his ultimate goal is to completely end Washington’s Home Rule authority.
The position was echoed by former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly dealt with the Left’s weaponization of selective police enforcement during his first term in office, forcing him at times to threaten use of the U.S. military and National Guard.
Trump publicly stated earlier this month that the “federal government should take over control and management of Washington D.C.”
President Trump: "Frankly, the federal government should take over control and management of Washington DC.”
— The Columbia Bugle 🇺🇸 (@ColumbiaBugle) March 5, 2023
Meanwhile, Oversight Committee member Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., has targeted the D.C. Jail for congressional scrutiny following widespread reports of the mistreatment of Jan. 6 political dissidents, some of whom were detained there indefinitely in the aftermath of the 2021 uprising.
Greene has demanded access to the jail and is also seeking a complete overview of the conditions.
Other aspects of D.C. legislation remain ripe targets, such as the District’s draconian gun control laws or the decision to essentially decriminalize most psychedelics—a move that was approved by D.C. voters in a referendum.
That has help fuel a surge in homelessness, with the city being forced recently to clear out one of its “Brandonville” camps just blocks from the White House.
Most local politicians and activists hoped they could count on Democratic control of both the Senate and the White House as a shield. But those hopes rapidly melted away in a storm of political dynamics that amounted to a humiliating setback for the D.C. Council.
For now, the council maintains that the city’s criminal code is dangerously obsolete and desperately in need of reform. But after seeing the initial law turned into a national political issue, there appears to be little appetite to try again in the short term.
Mendelson said that changing the aspects that drew criticism, such as the lowering of maximum penalties for crimes like carjacking, would simply lead to other objections from a Republican House that he said is openly looking for a fight.
“I don’t plan on installing a hotline to Republican leadership in the House and the Senate and calling them every week and asking them for permission to move forward,” Mendelson whined.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press