President Joe Biden on Monday signed into law a resolution to block a controversial Washington, DC, crime bill that opponents have criticized as weak on crime.
The effort to block the crime bill divided Democrats and highlighted the difficult balance the party is attempting to strike as Republicans accuse them of failing to tackle the issue of crime.
The Senate voted earlier this month to pass the Republican-led resolution. And while a large number of Democrats ultimately supported the resolution, an announcement by Biden that he would not veto it surprised and upset members of his party as many believe Congress should not interfere in the political affairs of the district.
The House passed the resolution in February before Biden’s veto announcement, with 173 Democrats voting against it.
The DC Council chairman attempted to withdraw the legislation from congressional review after it became clear the resolution of disapproval was on track to pass the Senate with widespread support. But that attempted withdrawal did not stop the Senate vote from moving forward.
A number of Democrats contend that public debate over the crime bill has lacked nuance, pointing to policies that run counter to the “weak on crime” messaging around the bill.
“The debate over the DC crime law has gone a bit off the rails. It lowers the carjacking maximum to 24 years, but that’s IN LINE with many states. And the bill INCREASES sentences for attempted murder, attempted sexual assault, misdemeanor sexual abuse and many other crimes,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted earlier this month.
Republicans, meanwhile, have called the DC crime bill dangerous and irresponsible.
“Congress is tasked with overseeing Washington, D.C. — a federal district where people should be safe to live and work. The district should set a nationwide example by enacting legislation that makes its residents and visitors safer — not less safe,” Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, a lead sponsor of the resolution in the Senate, said in a statement.
The controversial crime bill was initially vetoed by DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, with Bowser saying in a statement at the time that the bill “does not make us safer.” In a letter to the DC council chairman, Bowser expressed concern that “the council substantially reduced penalties for robberies, carjackings and home invasion burglaries.”
The council, however, voted to override the mayor’s veto. “Decades of dramatic increases in incarceration have not been a solution to rising crime,” a release from the council said on the veto override.
Separately, Biden signed a measure Monday that would require the Director of National Intelligence to declassify as much intelligence as possible on the origins of the coronavirus, as well as any links between the virus and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. White House officials had for days declined to say whether he supported the bill.
In a statement shortly after the president signed the bill, Biden said he “shares Congress’s goal” of releasing as much information as possible about the origin of Covid-19.
“We need to get to the bottom of COVID-19’s origins to help ensure we can better prevent future pandemics,” Biden said. “My Administration will continue to review all classified information relating to COVID–19’s origins, including potential links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”