President Joe Biden Signs Measure Nullifying D.C. Criminal Code Revisions

On Monday, President Joe Biden signed legislation into law that nullifies the recent overhaul of the criminal code of the District of Columbia. However, the fight between local lawmakers and Congress continues. 

The president’s signature only marks the end of the contentious first chapter of the saga. District lawmakers are left harboring deep resentments toward national Democrats and poised to play defense against the Republican-controlled house for at least the next couple of years. 

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy heralded Biden’s move and described it as the end of what he labeled a “soft-on-crime criminal code rewrite that treated violent criminals like victims and discarded the views of law enforcement.”

Before the bill was sent to the president, House Republicans promised a season of congressional intervention into local D.C. political affairs. 

“This is just the beginning,” said McCarthy at a signing ceremony after the vote to cancel D.C.’s criminal code passed the Senate with considerable Democratic support. “It’s a message for the entire nation.”

When all signs pointed to congressional passage of the measure, followed by a Biden signature, the D.C. Council withdrew the measure. However, it did not save Biden from making the politically charged decision of whether he would endorse the congressional action. 

The president did not issue a statement along with his Monday signature. However, he tweeted earlier this month that while he supported D.C. statehood, “I don’t support some of the changes D.C. Council put forward over the mayor’s objections — such as lowering penalties for carjackings.”

The House Committee on Oversight and Accountability vets all new D.C. laws under the terms of Washington’s Home Rule Authority and often alters or limits them through budget riders. But, the rewrite of the criminal code is the first law to be entirely overturned since 1991. 

Oversight Committee poised to “conduct robust oversight of America’s capital city”

GOP House Oversight Committee Chairman Representative James Comer of Kentucky has pledged that the committee “stands ready to conduct robust oversight of America’s capital city.”

Oversight Committee member, Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, has targeted the D.C. Jail for possible congressional scrutiny. She has demanded jail access to visit around two dozen detainees from the January 6 U.S. Capitol incident. She also wants a complete overview of the jail’s conditions. 

Other possible focuses by Congress include D.C.’s decision to decriminalize most psychedelics, which was approved in a referendum, as well as the District’s strict gun control laws. 

The D.C. Council maintains that the city’s criminal code is alarmingly obsolete and needs reform. However, after seeing the initial law turned into a national political issue, there does not appear to be much appetite to pursue changes again in the short term.