Senate blocks DC crime bill, sending measure to Biden’s desk

Thirty-three Democratic senators joined Republicans on Wednesday to block a controversial update to Washington, DC’s criminal code that would lower maximum penalties for violent crime, including carjackings. 

The upper chamber advanced the resolution nixing the DC City Council’s bill in an 81-14, with every Republican senator supporting the resolution sponsored by Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.). 

The measure now heads to President Biden’s desk, who announced last week that he would not veto it, outraging DC officials and some Democrats. 

“Carjackings and car thefts have become a daily routine. Homicides are racking up at a rate of four per week,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said during remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday. 

“This is our capital city. But local politicians have let its streets become a danger and an embarrassment,” he added. 

Biden, 80, informed Senate Democrats during a caucus lunch last week that he would sign the legislation. 

Joe Biden
The bill overturning DC’s controversial crime bill now heads to President Biden’s desk for his signature.

Several Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2024, including Sen. Joe Manchin, voted with Republicans to nix the DC crime bill.
Several Senate Democrats up for re-election in 2024, including Sen. Joe Manchin, voted with Republicans to nix the DC crime bill.
Getty Images

“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,” Biden later wrote in a tweet announcing his intention not to veto the bill.

“If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did – I’ll sign it,” he added. 

With Biden’s blessings, numerous Senate Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and lawmakers up for re-election in 2024, such as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sherrod Brown (D- Ohio), backed the resolution.

DC protesters
The DC crime bill would have reduced maximum penalties for certain violent crimes.

The No. 2 Senate Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), voted “no” on the bill. 

The House voted 250-173 last month to override the DC law, with 31 Democrats joining all Republicans in voting in favor.

The district’s bill would have lowered the max sentence for carjacking from 21 years — 40 if armed with a gun — to 18 years, or 24 if armed. The max penalty for armed robbery would be reduced from 45 years to 20 years.

Muriel Bowser
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser initially opposed the DC crime bill but argued that Congress should not meddle in the district’s affairs.
Lenin Nolly/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

The DC City Council attempted to withdraw the crime bill from congressional consideration on Monday amid signs that it would be overturned, but the Home Rule Act, which governs the District, does not allow for the withdrawal of legislation. 

Congress has very rarely used its oversight responsibilities over DC to nix legislation, only nixing District laws four times since the early 1970s, according to CNN. 

“I don’t think the Congress should ever interfere in our local governance. They can because we live under the indignity of limited home rule,” DC Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a tweet Wednesday.

“What we should all be prepared to do next is get to work to get it right,” she added, despite vetoing the city council’s crime bill only to have her veto overturned before Congress nixed the legislation.