Washington’s Mayor Muriel Bowser, council tell Congress to butt out of their criminal-code rift

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on Tuesday said they want to resolve their differences over the city’s criminal code without interference from Congress, presenting a united front as local leaders and Capitol Hill Democrats launched another uphill bid for D.C. statehood.

Republicans on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee are drafting a resolution that would block recently approved revisions to the D.C. Code. Starting in 2025, the bill would reduce maximum penalties for certain gun crimes and things like robberies and carjackings, sparking an outcry from GOP lawmakers who say the bill would make the nation’s capital less safe.

Ms. Bowser vetoed the bill because of similar concerns about weaker criminal penalties, only to be overridden by the D.C. Council. Yet she linked arms with Mr. Mendelson, a fellow Democrat, in telling House Republicans to butt out of their affairs.

“There will likely be differences between mayors and councils, and D.C. is no different,” Ms. Bowser said. “Any changes that we want to see in that legislation we will handle [by] presenting them to the council.”

Mr. Mendelson, who last week said he feared the mayor’s stance on the overhaul would provide fodder for House GOP critics, amplified the mayor’s point about confining the debate to city hall.

“The District government has shown over 50 years that it’s pretty good at governing itself and working out disagreements and resolving policy issues,” Mr. Mendelson said. “There’s no need for Congress to step in, and it would be wrong.”

SEE ALSO: House GOP fights D.C. proposal to go easier on crime

D.C. officials spoke on the crime bill during a press conference to promote D.C. statehood legislation.

Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat, and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting member of Congress, are leading the charge. They argued that the more than 700,000 people who live in the District are subject to taxation and the whims of the federal government without adequate representation.

The House twice passed a statehood bill, in 2020 and 2021, but the bill has struggled to get through the Senate given the lack of GOP support. Things look bleaker for the effort in this Congress because Republicans run the House.

Already, the new House majority is flexing its constitutional right to object to D.C. laws. Republicans filed a resolution disapproving of a D.C. plan to let noncitizens vote in local elections. Rep. Andrew Clyde, Georgia Republican, is drafting a resolution to block the crime overhaul.

“Reducing penalties for any criminal offense is dangerous — no matter the crime or city,” Mr. Clyde said. “By advancing this bill, the DC Council is recklessly emboldening criminals and abandoning the safety of residents and visitors at a time when crime continues to soar in our nation’s capital.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, said GOP lawmakers are “further dragging us backward” with efforts to meddle in D.C. affairs.

SEE ALSO: D.C. mayor, police chief address violence concerns at community meeting

“The head of the House Oversight Committee has talked about even more micromanagement — from the House — of the people who live in the District of Columbia,” Mr. Van Hollen said. “I would suggest that these members of Congress should have their hands full dealing with their own congressional districts and other issues in the country rather than trying to dictate to the people of the District of Columbia and impose their will over the will of the mayor and members of the council who are elected by the people of the District of Columbia.”

Republicans in the past have attached District-related provisions to must-pass legislation, forcing Democrats to swallow hard and accept limits on D.C. funding for abortion or marijuana sales.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has promised an open amendment system in the people’s chamber, prompting fears among D.C. officials that so-called legislative “riders” against District policies will become more commonplace.

Ms. Bowser pointed out that the District, unlike states, is unable to call in its own National Guard unless the president calls for it. She said that held back efforts to protect the Capitol during the attack on Jan. 6, 2021.

City officials and their allies believe making D.C. the 51st state would erase their concerns and put them on equal footing with places like Vermont and Wyoming, which are home to fewer people than the District but enjoy full representation in Congress.

“We will fight that effort and we will prevent them from taking us backward,” Mr. Van Hollen said. “But the only way to ensure that we move forward on a permanent basis is to grant D.C. statehood.”

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