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The U.S. Senate on March 8 overwhelmingly approved a House-passed bill that would overturn a controversial D.C. crime law that critics have blasted as soft on crime. The measure will next go to the desk of President Joe Biden, who’s said he wouldn’t veto the bill.
The chamber passed the measure in an 81–14 vote.
The resolution would block the Revised Criminal Code Act (RCC), a law passed by the D.C. Council that lessens penalties for some violent crimes, such as carjackings and home burglaries. The reform was introduced as the district is experiencing a record-breaking crime wave.
That law was initially vetoed by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, but the Council later overruled Bowser’s veto in a 12–1 vote.
Earlier this week, the D.C. Council member who introduced the revised criminal code said he plans to withdraw the measure amid the rising congressional backlash and after Biden said he wouldn’t veto the resolution if passed.
On Feb. 9, the House voted 260 to 173 to approve a measure that would strike down the law. The bill won the support of 31 Democrats.
The district’s crime reform measure came as the Metropolitan Police Department reported a substantial uptick in violent crime. According to that data, homicides are up by 33 percent over the same time last year, sex abuse is up by 120 percent, and motor vehicle thefts are up by 108 percent.
‘A Danger and an Embarrassment’: McConnell
Republicans say the D.C. Council’s bill will only serve to exacerbate the crime situation.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), speaking against the bill in remarks on the Senate floor, highlighted recent criminal incidents in Washington.
“Carjackings and cartels have become a daily routine; homicides are racking up at a rate of four—four!—per week.”
McConnell also cited reports that assaults had become so commonplace on Washington public transportation that civilian volunteers have created their own patrols on Metro trains and platforms.
“We’re the greatest superpower in history,” McConnell said. “This is our capital city. But local politicians have let its streets become a danger and an embarrassment.”
McConnell noted that D.C. is not the only major American city facing a record-breaking crime surge: in cities from San Francisco to Minneapolis to Atlanta, vandalism, assault, burglary, grand theft auto, murder, and other violent crimes are on the rise.
The responsibility for this, according to McConnell, lies with the left’s long-lived campaign of anti-police rhetoric.
“This is what happens when Democrats at all levels decide we need fewer arrests, shorter sentences, and more generosity to criminals at the expense of less justice for victims and for families,” McConnell said.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.) said on the Senate floor that the effects of a loose criminal policy are not limited merely to the victims of such crimes. She cited studies showing that living in high-crime areas could lessen the value students receive at school and can have negative health factors, ranging from weight gain to elevated blood pressure.
Democrats in both the House and Senate have argued that the Congressional effort to overrule the crime bill was akin to colonialism.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), for example, called the measures “profoundly undemocratic” during a speech criticizing the legislation on Feb. 9.
Norton has in the past put forward legislation that would give D.C. statehood. Democrats have pushed for making the federal district a co-equal state, which would almost undoubtedly expand Democrats’ control of the House by one seat and the Senate by two. The federal district regularly votes more than 90 percent for Democrats.
Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) called the bills a challenge to D.C.’s right “to political self-determination” during House debates on the legislation.
“If my Republican colleagues insist on acting like a colonial overseer of the District of Columbia, the least they could do is hear from the people of D.C.,” Scanlon said.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), in a March 8 speech on the Senate floor ahead of the vote, echoed this sentiment in explaining his opposition to the resolution.
“I support self-determination,” Van Hollen said. “I support self-governance. I support full democracy for the nearly 700,000 residents of the District of Columbia. Citizens who pay more federal taxes collectively than the people in 21 states; citizens who served their country in the armed forces.”
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