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The White House defended President Biden’s decision not to veto the measure, which has angered many in the district.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Friday defended President Joe Biden’s decision not to veto a measure that blocks a Washington, D.C., law reducing sentences for violent crimes.
The measure, which the House passed along party lines last month, is expected to be approved in the Senate next week.
Criticizing the law, Jean-Pierre said, “It reduces maximum penalties for offenses like murders, homicides, armed home invasions, burglaries, armed carjackings, armed robberies, unlawful gun possession and some sexual assault offenses.”
She also argued that it does not address a major priority of the administration to reform policing. “We believe that this bill does not actually do that,” she said.
Initially, the bill did appear likely to garner support in the Democratic Senate. But the Republican sponsor of the measure, Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, told Route Fifty in an interview on Tuesday that he expected the bill to pass with Democratic support.
And indeed, according to press reports, two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, have come out in support of the measure. Additional Democrats are expected to go along as well, aided in part by the fact that Washington’s Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the revisions to D.C.’s criminal code. She was ultimately overridden by the City Council.
That Congress with Biden’s approval would override the wishes of the city’s council appalled council members and Washington’s lone representative in Congress.
“Today has been a sad day for D.C. home rule and D.C. residents’ right to self-governance,” Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat said, in a statement. “But with the nationwide increase in crime, most senators do not want to be seen as supporting criminal justice reform.”
City Councilmember Charles Allen also expressed outrage. Biden’s decision is an “unprecedented violation of America’s core principle of self-governance and the latest painful reminder that until the nearly 700,000 residents of the District of Columbia have full statehood and autonomy, we will be seen and treated as a colony, even by those who purport to support us,” he said. “The District of Columbia is perfectly capable of governing itself. We are not subjects.”
Jean-Pierre emphasized, though, that Biden would support making Washington, D.C. a state. “If Congress sends him a bill making a D.C. a state, he'll sign it because he's been talking about that for the last two decades,” she said.
Washington’s City Council and criminal justice advocates have defended changing the penalties for a range of crimes saying they are more in line with the sentences juries hand out. In addition, supporters say the changes to the city’s criminal code fixed a number of problems with laws that haven’t been updated since they were written by Congress in 1901.
For instance, the criminal code does not define crimes like assault or manslaughter, which leads to appeals and uncertainty over what exactly constitutes those offenses.
Hagerty, though, said the issue was not a partisan issue, noting Bowser’s opposition to the changes.
“The mayor tried to amend it to no avail. She tried to veto it to no avail,” Hagerty said. “She said it's not making D.C. any safer. I couldn't agree with her more. This is not the time, when you have a crime wave underway here in D.C., for lowering the penalties and increasing incentives for criminals to act.”
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty.