President’s Biden announcement late this week that he will not veto the GOP-led resolution of disapproval of the District of Columbia’s new crime bill handed Republicans a major political victory and puts his own party’s divisions on full display as they attempt to combat attacks that they are soft on crime.
Senate Republicans were already set to message heavily on the bill next week before it comes to the floor — and now will get to do so against a Democratic caucus likely more split on the measure than was expected, as some will likely be swayed by the White House’s move.
“I think that’s a smart move on his part, and I think that if Democrats in the Senate were smart, they’d make it a big vote next week,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told The Hill. “Clearly, I think they’re reading the tea leaves and understand that that’s an issue that’s got a lot of resonance with people of this country.”
“Clearly, it’s a recognition on their part that they were playing a losing hand on this issue and needed to get right with the American people,” Thune added. “So yeah — it’s a win.”
Early indications following Biden’s decision show exactly that as Democrats rally behind him and break with “home rule” for the District — at least on this issue. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the Senate pro tempore, announced on Friday that she is siding with the president when the bill hits the floor this week.
Murray, who served in Democratic leadership prior to this Congress, joins the likes of Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.). While Manchin announced his plans days before Biden’s decision, the moves by the four other Senate Democrats indicate that this could be a big vote in support of reversing the crime bill.
Others still weren’t sure following their sit-down with Biden.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told reporters to “talk to me next week,” adding that it’s a “complicated matter.”
The bill in question passed the D.C. City Council unanimously earlier this year. The council later overrode a veto by Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) last month, paving the way for the legislation to be enshrined in law until Biden surprised lawmakers by siding with its removal.
Among other things, the measure would eliminate most mandatory sentences and lower penalties for a number of violent offenses, including robberies and carjackings, which Biden specifically referred to in a tweet announcing his plans.
As of Friday, there have been 95 carjackings in D.C. this year alone.
There is anger among some on the Democratic side for Biden’s move, however. In addition to those who were blindsided by the Thursday announcement after opposing the GOP measure in the House, there are progressives who are upset at the decision and what it means for the possibility of the District eventually winning statehood.
“I’m deeply disappointed to see the president announce he will allow Congress to overturn a D.C. law for the first time in decades,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the House Progressive Caucus, told CNN. “This is simple: The District of Columbia must be allowed to govern itself. Democrats’ commitment to home rule should apply regardless of the substance of the local legislation.”
The president’s position has Republicans downright giddy. Not only does the effort bear fruit legislatively and become more than a messaging effort, but it also allows the party to attack a number of House Democrats for voting against the bill when they were under the assumption that Biden was going to veto it.
In total, 173 House Democrats voted against the resolution, giving the National Republican Congressional Committee a clear opening to go on offense. Thirty-one Democrats, including many in competitive House seats, voted with every Republican for the measure.
“The ads write themselves for the progressive Democrats who voted for uncontrollable crime and out-of-control wokeness,” said Corry Bliss, a GOP political operative who previously ran the Congressional Leadership Fund. “The law is so bad, Biden couldn’t even support it. … It defies common sense.”
The “soft on crime” message Republicans are trying to tether to Democrats has layers though. Specifically, they are trying to highlight crime in major U.S. cities, with the Chicago mayoral contest this week serving as a prime example: Incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) lost her reelection bid due in part to the issue.
Crime in the District also hit home for lawmakers earlier this year when Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) was assaulted in her Washington apartment building only hours before the House vote on the bill in question.
A vote in the upper chamber has yet to be scheduled, but it is expected to happen mid-next week.
And with the wind at their backs, Republicans are set to talk about the issue nonstop in the intervening days.
“We need to know that D.C. is going to be a safe place for the residents, so I’m glad that he hopefully took that into consideration,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said.
“I think it is a big win for [the GOP], but we need to know and understand that it’s not just members of Congress that are here,” Ernst said. “There are families that live here in the District, and whether it’s drugs, whether it’s robberies, whether it’s murder, all of that needs to be addressed.”