Multiple Democrats are undecided about how they will vote on a measure that would overturn a rewriting of Washington, DC’s criminal code, which critics have argued is soft on violent criminals.
The measure is expected to come up for a vote by next week and only needs a simple majority to pass. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, has said he will vote with Republicans on it.
Congress, under DC’s Home Rule charter, is able to veto every law approved by either DC voters or government. If the repeal passes,it is likely to be the first bill that President Joe Biden will consider vetoing. Biden has said he opposes rescinding the DC crime measure but has not explicitly said if he will veto it.
The question is whether Manchin will be alone in his vote. If he is, it would be the first time that Pennsylvania Democrat Sen. John Fetterman’s absence had an effect on a vote in the Senate because then the measure would only need 50 votes to pass. Fetterman has stepped away from the Senate for the time being to seek treatment for depression.
Many Democrats oppose overriding the DC law. They argue local officials should make their own laws free of congressional interference and decry Republicans as hypocrites since they typically promote state and local rights. The law was passed after the city council overrode the veto of Mayor Muriel Bowser who, despite her opposition to the new law, opposes Congress overturning it.
The DC Council had defended the measure in a letter last week, writing that “the District of Columbia has the right to self-govern as granted to us under the Home Rule Act.”
“Any changes or amendments to the District’s local laws should be done by the elected representatives of the District of Columbia. As those representatives, we alone are accountable to the voters of the District of Columbia,” the letter continued, adding: “Just as Congress does not interfere in the local matters of other states, we compel you not to interfere in our matters.”
Tennessee Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty, the chief sponsor of the legislation to repeal the local law called it a “common sense” approach in a city where many violent crimes are up. Politically, he compared it to the “defund the police” issue and said for centrist Democrats, “I don’t think that’s going to be very popular in their states and this falls right in that lane.”
Sen. Jon Tester, one of those centrist Democrats who is up for reelection this cycle, told reporters he still has not decided if he would back the measure.
“I hate to be a cop out for you guys all the time, but I do have to look at it. I just don’t know what it does yet,” Tester said Tuesday. “There is the issue of, you know, DC does what DC wants to do and let DC do what they do, but we do have some oversight.”
Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Mark Kelly of Arizona and Gary Peters of Michigan also told CNN they have not made up their minds and are weighing the legislation.
The measure passed out of the House with 31 Democratic votes.