The Senate is set to strike down controversial changes to DC criminal law, dividing Democrats


WASHINGTON — The Senate will vote Wednesday to strike down criminal law changes passed by the Washington, DC, Council, a Republican-led measure that has divided Democrats and could undermine the statehood movement.

«I’m going to vote yes. It was a close question, but overall I’m going to vote yes,» Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y, told reporters.

Many Democrats are expected to join Schumer in supporting the disapproval measure, and it will almost certainly pass. But others, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., say they will vote to reject it on political grounds and on the basis of Washington’s support for sovereignty.

“These are sensible proposals to update a criminal justice code that hasn’t been changed since 1901. And the changes are in line with most states in this country. Second, I believe in DC self-government. And third, the District itself is trying to withdraw this bill, and the efforts of Congress to go ahead and vote it down anyway is just a way of trying to exert power over 700,000 people who should have their own state,» Warren said. in an interview.

The issue has tied Democrats in knots. The DC Council adopted changes late last year to eliminate most mandatory minimum sentences and reduce mandatory maximum sentences, NBC Washington reported. Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed it, only to have her veto overridden. Then she, despite opposing the new law, asked Congress to stay out of local affairs and not intervene, citing Washington’s sovereignty.

Sen. Cory Booker, DN.J., spoke at the Democratic luncheon Tuesday and implored his colleagues to read the crime bill before they vote.

“I’m just saying I’ve never seen anything like it in my 10 years,” Booker said of his caucus speech. “When you actually read the bill, you compare it to the penal codes of other states, it amazes me that somehow this has been perverted and distorted to be seen as something that is some kind of relaxation of penalties for people who do bad things. ”

President Joe Biden surprised many Democrats last week when he told Senate Democrats at a closed-door luncheon that he would sign the bill to block it, even as he proclaimed his support for statehood and «home rule.»

Biden’s position comes as he seeks to blunt the GOP’s political attack on Democrats over crime ahead of the expected launch of his re-election campaign. Biden has tried to distance himself from some on the left and back a tough crackdown on crime.

“Led by the president, the Democrats are in full retreat on the issue of DC criminal law,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., an opponent of DC statehood, told reporters. . He said Washington’s criminal law represents «the right time for federal intervention to protect our constituents and our staff.»

After Biden’s announcement, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson tried to withdraw the measure from Congress to avoid a vote, but Senate leadership advisers said it was too late to withdraw it.

The two Democratic senators from neighboring Maryland, Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, say they will vote against the disapproval bill, citing home rule. But neighboring Virginia’s two Democrats, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, say they will vote to strike down the criminal law.

To further complicate matters, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the main sponsor of the statehood legislation, said he will vote to intervene and undo the new law.

«They have asked us to literally return the account,» he said.

Some Democrats who support DC statehood are unconvinced, with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, who is facing re-election in 2024, saying, «I think DC has to do it again.»

“I support statehood for DC, and yet they’re not a state yet and we have those oversight responsibilities,” Baldwin said. «And the most important calling of a representative is to keep their constituents safe … whether it’s in Wisconsin or the Wisconsin residents who come to visit here or the staff members who live here.»

Other statehood advocates criticized the expected vote as antithetical to Washington’s sovereignty to write its own laws.

The Republican-led House of Representatives voted 250-173 last month to block the measure: all 173 opponents were Democrats.

Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, a non-voting representative from Washington, condemned the bill and chided Biden for announcing he would sign it, calling it “a sad day for DC autonomy and the right of DC residents to self determination”.

Even staunch Biden allies in the Democratic leadership say the White House mishandled the issue. Among them is Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, who said the White House sent a «mixed signal» and could have communicated better.

“They gave a signal that led House Democrats to take certain actions. And the president then took a different position when he got to the Senate,” he said. «He speaks for himself.»

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