Why Are Biden and Congress Blocking the D.C. Crime Bill?

In a possible attempt to appear tough on crime for 2024, Biden is stepping in to kill a local crime bill.

What’s happening: On Wednesday, the Senate voted 81-14 to block the passage of a local crime bill that would change and clarify the District of Columbia’s criminal code. The Republican-led joint resolution had passed 250-173 in the House, with President Joe Biden announcing that he wouldn’t veto the Senate’s decision. It was an unusual bipartisan moment.

What’s in it: The crime bill would have shifted sentencing guidelines in the District, lowering maximum penalties for crimes ranging from carjacking to firearms possession and reducing/eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for other crimes. However, it would also increase sentences for attempted murder, sexual assault, and gun crimes. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the crime bill in January, saying it was the “wrong message” on violent crime, but the D.C. City Council overruled it.

Amid a crime spike: The bill would have reduced sentences amid a rise in D.C. crime—carjackings are rising for the fifth straight year in Washington. Though the bill has been in the making since 2006 and lowers carjacking sentences from a 40-year maximum to a 24-year maximum.

Zoom out: The move by Congress and the president drew criticism from city activists and leaders, who view it as an attack on “D.C.’s right to self-government.” Biden’s objectives in killing the crime bill seem to be appearing tougher on crime and avoiding Republican-led attacks as 2024 approaches. Crime reduction is increasingly an issue for the broader American electorate—57 percent of Americans say that reducing crime should be a “top priority.”

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