Senators on Wednesday overwhelmingly voted to block the District of Columbia’s updated criminal code from becoming law, marking the first time in more than three decades that a D.C.-passed bill has been nixed by Congress and the White House.
The Senate advanced the resolution, 81-14, with 33 Democrats voting alongside every Republican and Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.).
Senate Democrats of all stripes joined with the GOP, including some of the party’s leadership. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) both backed the resolution.
Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the upper chamber, however, split with Schumer to vote “no.”
Unsurprisingly, the most vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2024, headlined by Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio), all supported the resolution.
Fourteen senators who caucus with the Democrats voted against the measure: Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Durbin.
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) voted present. Sens. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and James Risch (R-Idaho) were absent.
The Senate Democrats had political cover to vote “yes” after President Biden told them last week he would not veto the resolution if it reached his desk — reversing a statement of administration policy backing Washington, D.C., home rule prior to the House vote last month.
The House passed the resolution to block the crime bill on a 250 to 173 vote, with 31 Democrats voting with all Republicans.
The D.C. City Council passed its crime bill unanimously in January and overrode a veto by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) in February, 12-1.
It has been the subject of intense criticism from Republicans and some Democrats for some provisions, such as the lower penalties for a number of violent crimes, including robberies and carjackings.
“Carjackings and car thefts have become a daily routine. Homicides are racking up at a rate of four per week,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said during a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “This is our capital city. But local politicians have let its streets become a danger and an embarrassment.”
In his tweet last week announcing his decision, Biden specifically mentioned sentences for carjackings as a reason. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, there have been 101 carjackings across the District this year alone, roughly the same as the 106 reported by this point last year. Half have involved juveniles. Twenty-two of this calendar year’s cases have been closed, and 14 people have been arrested on related charges.
“I just think it needs more work,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) told reporters of the D.C. bill, citing the mayor’s veto of the bill earlier this year.
But the 180-degree turn by the administration has infuriated some House Democrats who have complained that the White House put them in a bad spot.
It also handed House Republicans a gift on the messaging side, as the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) launched an ad campaign against 15 Democrats who voted against doing away with the crime bill.
“Forget safe streets and neighborhoods — House Democrats remain more concerned with promoting policies that appease violent criminals,” Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), the NRCC’s chairman, said in a statement. “This is just a preview of how these extremist House Democrats will be held accountable for coddling criminals all cycle long.”
The crime bill has also been criticized for other reasons, including that it would increase the number of jury trials for misdemeanor offenses. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine.) who voted for the resolution blocking the bill, told The Hill earlier in the week that there’s not “enough jurors in the world to do that.”
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on Monday attempted to withdraw the bill and keep it from being brought up for a vote. However, the Home Rule Act, which governs the District, does not allow for the withdrawal of legislation.
A number of Senate Democrats, however, stood by the District and opposed the resolution. Cardin told reporters earlier in the week that the matter is “a D.C. issue.”
“The Senate shouldn’t be voting on that,” Cardin said. “To me, it’s a fundamental issue of home rule.”