President Biden on Thursday said he’ll sign legislation that Republicans have championed that would undo parts of a District of Columbia crime bill.
The president told Senate Democrats about his intention not to veto the measure when he went up to the Capitol on Thursday to meet with the caucus, several senators reported after the meeting.
The local bill would eliminate most mandatory sentences, lower penalties for a number of violent offenses, including carjackings and robberies and expand the requirement for jury trials in most misdemeanor cases.
“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 tweeted. “If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. Council did — I’ll sign it.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) had opposed the crime measure, but also backed a Biden veto of the GOP bill because of the implications for home rule.
“It’s smart politics. He was running into a buzzsaw,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters on Thursday. “You don’t want to get left of the D.C. mayor.”
A veto would undoubtedly have been used by the GOP in campaign ads as Republicans push their rhetoric that Democrats are too soft on crime.
The legislation was unanimously approved by the D.C. City Council, which then overrode a veto by Bowser in an overwhelming 12-1 vote.
The GOP-led House passed a resolution of disapproval that would block the implementation of the law. It is likely to pass the Senate with bipartisan support in a vote as early as next week, despite the Democratic majority in the upper chamber and the Democratic Party’s usual support for D.C. home rule.
Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) on Monday became the first Democratic senator to come out in support of the resolution, saying the local legislation doesn’t make sense to him. Other Democrats who face also difficult reelection races in 2024 may vote with him next week.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said on Thursday after Biden’s announcement that he’s still undecided about the resolution.
Other Democrats also seemed unsure, including Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.), who told reporters, “talk to me next week.”
“It is a complicated matter in this sense. It’s kind of D.C. battle between the City Council that’s elected by the people that said this is the right thing and the mayor that’s elected by the people that said this is the wrong thing,” he said. “That means, OK, they’re not on the same page. You got to dig into it.”
All 49 Republican senators support the resolution rescinding the crime bill, which means it will pass the Senate if another Democrat joins Manchin in supporting it.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) told reporters that Biden’s stance was “news to me, and I’m very disappointed in it.”
—Al Weaver and Mychael Schnell contributed. Updated at 3:40 p.m.