Democrats Get Burned by Joe Biden’s Reluctant Embrace of D.C. Crime Legislation

When the House of Representatives voted to repeal a series of DC criminal justice reforms last month, 173 of the 204 Democrats who voted—85%—opposed the Republican-led effort. When the measure was introduced in the Senate Wednesday night, all but 14 of the Senate’s 51 Democrats joined Republicans in rejecting the DC Assembly.

What has changed in the last four weeks is a case study of bad politics, bad communication, and a lot of Democratic politicians afraid to appear soft on criminals. More specifically, what changed during that time was President Joe Biden.

Biden announced last week that he would sign the DC crime law, which would repeal the measure to reduce punishment for some crimes and block the DC bill for the first time in more than 30 years. For all the democratic attitudes about DC self-governance—Democratic Party mediocrity, more precisely—Congress maintains the ability to disprove local politicians in the District of Columbia.

When the House voted on February 9, Democratic lawmakers assumed Biden would veto the resolution — mainly because it was something the administration had proposed just three days earlier.

“Taxing without representation and denying autonomy is an affront to the democratic values ​​on which our Nation was founded… As we work to make Washington, D.C. as the 51st state of our Union, Congress should respect the autonomy of the District of Columbia to govern its local affairs, a Management Policy Statement from February 6 read.

But after a month of GOP attacks on cities with a lot of crime getting worse, Biden thought better of tacit approval of changes to ease penalties for crimes like carjacking, Robbery and home invasion. Now, the resolution is set to become the first piece of legislation from this new Congress that the president signs. And 173 House Democrats are being burned.

Representative Mary Peltola (D-AK), who voted against the bill, told The Daily Beast: “There could have been much better communication and it was just professional courtesy… to leave it to us. know his intentions on that. “So I think it just shows that we’re not always organized.”

Peltola is one of 15 vulnerable House Democrats that the Republican National Congressional Committee — the campaign branch of House Republicans — is currently running ads against, promoting ballots as a sign that they are weak on crime. The ads, first reported by axiscalled the 173 House Democrats who voted for the bills “extremists,” calling the proposals “so crazy that even President Biden wouldn’t support anarchy.” government.”

Peltola’s sentiment was a familiar one among Democrats in the House on Thursday. Many people—at least publicly—stand by their votes. After all, it’s hard to retract a position you voted for or publicly acknowledge White House guidance on how members actually vote.

But some House Democrats said it would be nice to be told in advance that they were voting to make them appear more lenient on crime than Biden.

“I think communication could be better from down the street in Pennsylvania [Avenue]. I said I was disappointed. That’s right,” Democratic Caucus Leader Pete Aguilar (D-CA) told reporters.

Others were much less diplomatic about the flip-flop.

Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) said he was “whipped”.

“None of us really want to defend these DC policy moves,” Huffman said, “but we should all feel free to defend family law.”

He continued that what makes Biden’s decision so damaging to Democrats is that it undermines the message. Before Biden reversed himself, Democrats easily defended their vote because they were defending the “principle” of allowing a city to make its own legislation. Once Biden decides that’s not the case, Democrats may have a harder time ignoring actual policies.

“DC has the power to pass silly ordinances like any city in America without Congress getting involved and becoming the city council instead,” Huffman said.

He concluded that Biden had not made the Democrats’ job “easier”.

Congressional Radical Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) was also strong on her assessment.

“I am deeply disappointed to see the President announce that he will authorize Congress to repeal a DC law for the first time in decades,” Jayapal said in a statement. “This is very simple: The District of Columbia must be allowed to govern itself. The Democratic Party’s commitment to family rule should apply regardless of the content of local law.”

Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) also said he was “disappointed” by the administration’s opposition. “It’s frustrating, especially considering the issue of sentencing and criminal justice reform. It looks like DC is trying to play a leadership role in that regard,” Bowman told The Daily Beast.

Bowman went on to lament what he sees as the administration’s wariness of eliminating police unions and players in the “prison-industrial complex”. The congressman came to Hill after protests over the killing of George Floyd, but he said the matter had not been meaningfully resolved since.

Biden’s move is a step in the opposite direction, he said.

“That speaks to the President’s ignorance, maybe his lack of courage, or maybe his lack of vision when it comes to the overall judicial reform needed in our country,” he said.

As Bowman noted, many years have passed since criminal justice reform legislation was actually passed at the federal level—most of the matter was left to state and local governments. The chances of reform don’t get any better after the 2022 term, when the dreaded label of “gentle with criminals” enters parliamentary races like the 1990s.

But this latest mistake has given new life to the attacks. Most House Democrats not only voted functionally to reduce sentences on some counts, but they sided with Biden’s left on charges — even if they didn’t.

White House spokesman Andrew Bates told The Daily Beast on Wednesday night that congressional Republicans need to commit “here and now” to join Biden—“not get in his way”— to combat the increased crime rates inherited by the president.

“The American people will not support the GOP’s continued sabotage of law enforcement,” Bates said. “Republicans need to assure the nation that they will abandon years-long efforts to cut police funding by targeting the COPS program that President Biden created while in office. parliamentarians, including in their budgets. They should strongly condemn those colleagues who are calling for defamation of the FBI and ATF. And they need to come to terms with the gun crime program by finally giving up opposing the assault weapons ban, instead swapping the AR-15 lapel pin and choosing to lobby for guns on safer streets.”

“This is not a game,” Bates continued, “it is life and death. Their years-long campaign to cut law enforcement funding in the name of ideology couldn’t be more at odds with the country.”

But Biden’s reversal brought an even brighter spotlight to this particular issue and vote. And it exacerbated resistance for some moderates who felt vulnerable to GOP attacks on social issues.

The NRCC ad—the first of the 2024 cycle—is a sign of prominence and potential. And that’s a clue to how Republicans can try to secure their House majority, as well as the White House and Senate.

Members targeted by the media did not appear to be enthusiastic about the topic on Tuesday. Representative Steven Horsford (D-NV) was unwilling to discuss the ads — or DC’s crime bill entirely — at the Capitol on Tuesday.

Asked about his reaction to Biden’s policy change, Horsford replied: “Why don’t you ask about voting rights?”

The Daily Beast has written dozens of stories about voting rightsand when we made that clear—and with the Senate voting on a DC crime resolution on Wednesday—Horsford simply insisted that “the Senate should introduce the Voting Rights Act.” He also suggested that The Daily Beast should ask the NRCC why introducing the Voting Rights Act in the Senate didn’t work either.

Rep. Val Hoyle (D-OR), another target of the ad, said her county “doesn’t really pay attention to DC, but they care about family rule and they don’t want the government to flip.” against their local decisions. “

When asked about the administration’s policy change on the matter, Hoyle said she was “comfortable” with her vote. “I vote for my district and my values, that’s all,” she said.

The final vote on the DC crime resolution comes in an already tense week for Democrats, after reports that the administration was considering reinstating some of its era’s immigration detention policies. Trump. Congressional Democrats, specifically in the Spanish Congress Caucus, have expressed outrage at that idea.

Some see Biden’s recent policy moves as a clear shift in center and away from his progressive achievements of the past two years.

But the handling of this DC crime resolution—as well as the underlying bill—has made one optional mistake after another.

First, reforms in punishment for crimes like carjacking and robbery occurred at a time when both Crime is on the rise in DC, although many other crimes have decreased in the County. Most notably, the measure would eliminate most mandatory minimum sentences for crimes committed in the County.

But the politics of this bill is so bad that D.C. Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser actually veto myself, only for the DC Council to unanimously overrule her veto. Bowser noted that the bill would significantly reduce sentences for crimes like being caught with a firearm after a previous conviction for a violent crime (from 15 years to four years) and would create a loophole in the law. prosecute crimes such as illegal possession of firearms.

The DC Council doesn’t care and push for changes that will go into effect in 2025. But that’s where Congress comes in.

Unlike Democrats, Republican politics is easy. The GOP has never really supported autonomy for DC, and there are easy political points to be scored by opposing these changes. Biden’s decision to support the GOP effort adds credibility to the resolution and makes it harder for Democrats to oppose.

That may be why Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who previously did not disclose how he votes, ended up urging Democratic senators to vote for the Senate. Resolution.

On Tuesday, the day before the vote, Schumer said it was a “close question,” but in the end he sided with the president and some of his most vulnerable senators, who announced they would vote on the GOP bill.

“Equally, I vote yes,” Schumer said.

And on Wednesday, he and 32 other Democrats voted with Republicans, making the 173 House Democrats who voted against seem more extreme.

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