Biden signs measure nullifying DC criminal code revisions


WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday signed into law legislation nullifying the recent overhaul of the District of Columbia criminal code, but the fight between Congress and local lawmakers is continuing.

The signature merely marks the end of a raucous first chapter in a saga that has left district lawmakers bitterly nursing their political bruises, harboring fresh resentments against national Democrats and bracing to play defense against an activist Republican-controlled House for at least the next two years.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy hailed the move in a statement, calling it the end of what he labeled a “soft-on-crime criminal code rewrite that treated violent criminals like victims and discarded the views of law enforcement.”

But even before the bill was formally sent to sent to Biden, House Republicans were promising a season of direct congressional intervention in local D.C. affairs.

“This is just the beginning,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said earlier this month in a celebratory signing ceremony after the vote to cancel the new criminal code passed the Senate with significant Democratic support. “It is a message for the entire nation.”

D.C. Council members sound like they fully believe those promises.

“I’m afraid that we’re going to see more of this for the remainder of this Congress,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said. “Does this raise a concern that there are going to be other issues? Yes.”

When congressional passage of the measure appeared inevitable and Biden indicated he would sign it, the D.C. Council withdrew the measure. But the move did not spare Biden a politically charged decision on whether to endorse the congressional action.

Biden did not issue a statement accompanying the signing Monday. But he tweeted earlier this month that while he supported statehood for D.C., “I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the mayor’s objections — such as lowering penalties for carjackings.”

Under terms of Washington’s Home Rule authority, t he House Committee on Oversight and Accountability essentially vets all new D.C. laws and frequently alters or limits them through budget riders. But the criminal code rewrite is the first law to be completely overturned since 1991.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., has pledged that his committee “stands ready to conduct robust oversight of America’s capital city.”

That robust oversight has already begun. Even before Biden signed the bill, the Oversight Committee sent letters summoning Mendelson, D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen and D.C. Chief Financial Officer Glen Lee to testify at a March 29 hearing. The topic of that hearing, according to the letter, is the ominously vague “general oversight of the District of Columbia, including crime, safety, and city management.”

Other House Republicans have already identified areas of interest to target. Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia has introduced a resolution to block a police accountability law known as the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act.

Most aspects of that law were passed by the D.C. Council on an…

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