Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters on Tuesday he will vote with Republicans on overturning a controversial D.C. crime bill that would have reduced maximum penalties for certain crimes, including burglaries, robberies, and carjackings.
Asked Tuesday how he would vote and how his party and how the White House “so badly bungled this issue,” Schumer said: “I’m going to vote yes. It was a close question. But on balance, I’m voting yes.”
The original D.C. legislation would have reduced maximum penalties for certain crimes, including burglaries, robberies, and carjackings, along with scrapping some mandatory minimum sentences. It faced backlash from conservatives and some liberals; Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed it this past January, but the city council overrode her veto.
Then, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives stepped in with a measure to override the city council changes. President Biden said last week he’d sign the House measure rather than veto it.
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Under the Constitution, Congress can serve as a super city council for the District of Columbia.
Schumer confirmed on Monday that the vote will take place this week. A Senate leadership aide said the vote would be on the House disapproval resolution, rather than the D.C. Council’s transmission to the Senate.
Despite Democratic control of the Senate, the criminal code seems likely to be rejected. One Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, already has said he will vote to overturn the law. Another, John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, is in the hospital, seeking treatment for clinical depression.
Hopes for presidential intervention were quashed last week when Biden stated that he would not use his veto if the measure reaches his desk. Biden publicly supports D.C. statehood and generally objects to Congress overturning the laws of the city’s elected officials.
In vetoing the revised criminal code, Bowser said she opposed provisions such as a reduction in the maximum penalties for burglary, carjacking, robbery and other offenses.
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“Anytime there’s a policy that reduces penalties, I think it sends the wrong message,” she said in January.
Bowser has said she prefers that Congress stay out of the District’s affairs, but her veto has been frequently cited by critics in Congress as proof that the criminal code revision was out of step with mainstream Democratic thought.
D.C. Council Chairman Mendelson said Monday that the criminal code had been hijacked by Republicans in Congress, eager to create a hot-button issue that would carry through the 2024 presidential elections.
Mendelson said the controversy was designed to put Biden and congressional Democrats in a political bind; by defending D.C.’s right to self-governance, they would open themselves to charges of being soft on crime at a time of rising crime both in the nation’s capital and across the U.S, he said.
“This is about using the District for national political purposes,” he said. “Crime lends itself easily to demagogic rhetoric.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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