Washington — The Senate on Wednesday voted to invalidate a controversial plan that would overhaul the District of Columbia’s criminal code, approving a resolution to nullify a D.C. law for the first time in three decades.
The disapproval resolution, which has already passed the House, required a simple majority to clear the Senate, and was approved by a vote of 81 to 14. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was among the Democrats who supported the resolution, though he told reporters Tuesday it was a “close question.”
President Biden has said he will sign the measure, angering many House Democrats who voted against it last month with the assumption that he would ultimately veto it.
The resolution overturns the D.C. Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022, which was approved by the district’s Council last November and would have ushered in the first sweeping changes to the criminal code in 100 years. The bill reduced the maximum sentences for some offenses such as carjackings and robberies, and eliminated most mandatory minimum sentences. Advocates argued the changes better reflected what sentences were actually handed down in the district and represented a much-needed update to the city’s antiquated criminal code.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser vetoed the legislation amid concerns it would not improve public safety in the nation’s capital and burden courts. The council unanimously voted to override her veto, and the update to the criminal code was set to take effect in 2025.
Congress, which under federal law can invalidate a proposed district law, then moved to intervene through a resolution of disapproval introduced in the Republican-led House. The measure rejecting the revamp to D.C.’s criminal code cleared the lower chamber with bipartisan support — 31 House Democrats voted with Republicans in favor of the resolution.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson attempted to forestall further congressional action, announcing Monday that he withdrew the controversial legislation. But a Senate leadership aide said the vote on the resolution would proceed as planned despite Mendelson’s efforts.
If the resolution is enacted, it will be the first time in 30 years that Congress has nullified a local D.C. law.
While many Democrats, including Mr. Biden, support statehood for D.C. and believe the district’s elected representatives should govern its local affairs, some have raised concerns about crime rates in D.C. and other major cities. The president highlighted a change included in the council’s plan that would lower penalties for carjackings as one of his objections to the overhaul.
Elevating concerns about crime, the House vote came the day Rep. Angie Craig, a Democrat from Minnesota, was assaulted in the elevator of her D.C. apartment building. Craig defended herself from the attacker and police arrested 26-year-old Kendrid Hamlin in connection with the incident. Hamlin has been accused of several crimes around the Capitol Hill area dating back to 2015.
Craig supported the disapproval resolution in the House and, in an interview with CBS News congressional correspondent Nikole Killion on Wednesday, called Mr. Biden’s decision to sign the measure the “right” one.
“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their own community, and I think the really interesting thing in the process that I’m taking away from my own assault here in D.C. is this intersection of mental illness, of addiction, of homelessness and public safety,” she said.
Craig said the assault gave her “a real perspective on public safety and just all the complicated ways in which we’re asked to make these public policy decisions.”
The support from the president and Schumer is expected to clear the way for more Senate Democrats to back the resolution. But Mr. Biden’s decision to back the GOP-led resolution has frustrated others in his party, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s nonvoting representative in the House.
Norton said in a statement last week that allowing the disapproval resolution to take effect “would empower the paternalistic, anti-democratic Republican opposition to the principle of local control over local affairs,” and noted that in an initial statement of administration policy, the White House said it opposed the resolution.
The statement from the White House budget office said the measure was an example of “how the District of Columbia continues to be denied true self-governance and why it deserves statehood,” but did not say that Mr. Biden would veto the resolution if it arrived on his desk. The statement was issued before Mr. Biden said he would sign the measure.