President Joe Biden on Monday quietly signed into law a measure backed by conservatives in Congress that blocks local criminal justice reforms approved by Washington, D.C.'s city council.
Because Washington, D.C., is not an independent state, all proposed laws in the district are subject to congressional and presidential approval. Biden's signature Monday marks the first time Congress has successfully blocked a Washington, D.C., bill in more than 30 years.
The White House used just one sentence Monday to announce in a news release Biden's signing of the GOP-led measure overturning the crime bill. The bill was initially vetoed by Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, before the city council voted to override that veto.
The bill sought progressive criminal justice reforms, including eliminating most mandatory minimum sentences, reducing maximum penalties and allowing for jury trials on misdemeanor charges. Republicans used bigoted rhetoric to suggest adoption of these reforms — which were designed to combat systemic inequality in the district’s criminal justice system — would turn the district into a lawless hellscape. And Biden bought into that rhetoric in the lead-up to Monday’s signing, using scare tactics that implied the bill wasn’t in the district’s best interest (despite the fact that a voter-approved city council said it was).
Signing a measure that usurps power from a majority-Black council in a city where roughly half the population is Black is a reminder of Biden’s reckless history on crime. It harkens back to the 1994 crime bill, which Biden sponsored as a senator. It's widely viewed as a contributor to mass incarceration in the U.S. Now, Biden has doubled down on "copaganda," and Republicans are already testing his appetite for more power grabs in the district.
As The Washington Post noted, after the Senate passed the measure to overrule the district's crime bill, House Republicans proposed yet another measure this month that would overturn a separate Washington, D.C., policing bill.
Here's what the policing bill entails, according to the Post:
The bill [Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act] was first passed as temporary emergency legislation in July 2020, and many of its provisions have been part of police policy for nearly three years. The bill adds civilians to disciplinary review boards and gives voting rights on those boards to an independent agency that reviews police conduct. It limits police searching people or property based on getting consent, instead of a warrant, and restricts the use of less-than-lethal weapons during riots and the use of military-grade equipment. The bill also requires police to make video from body-worn cameras public when police shoot people, and the public disclosure of those officers’ names, which has now been routine for years.
House Republicans want those reforms rolled back.
And the rhetorical attacks on the district's criminal code gave them a blueprint on how to do this despite Democrats controlling the White House and Senate.
D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson told the Post that the push in Congress to overturn the district’s criminal code “emboldened some Republicans to attack the District and to use the District for national campaign rhetoric.”
The same can be said for Biden, who’s widely believed to be on the verge of launching a re-election bid. His power grab over Washington, D.C., has fed an insatiable, illiberal beast. And he needn’t look to Republicans to find it. A mirror will work just fine.