Washington — The Senate is expected to move forward with a vote this week on a measure expressing disapproval of a plan to overhaul the District of Columbia’s criminal code, even though the head of the D.C. council says he withdrew the controversial measure, forestalling congressional action.
Phil Mendelson, chairman of the District of Columbia Council, announced Monday that he informed the Senate in a letter that he pulled the legislation revamping the district’s criminal laws, which would enable local officials to “work on the measure in light of congressional comments.”
“It’s clear that Congress is intending to override that legislation,” Mendelson said, “and so my letter, just as I transmit bills for their review, withdraws from consideration of the review.”
The move comes as the Senate is poised to vote this week on the resolution disapproving of the D.C. Council’s overhaul of the criminal code, which would invalidate the law. President Biden said last week that he would sign the GOP-led resolution if it reaches his desk, freeing up Senate Democrats to support the measure. It passed the Republican-controlled House last month with support from 31 Democrats and is expected to garner bipartisan support from the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that he will vote in favor of the disapproval resolution, adding that it was a “close question.”
Mendelson told reporters that his withdrawal of the plan, the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022, means it is “no longer properly before” Congress.
“It’s quite clear to me that the headwinds that have prevailed in Congress are about the politics of next year’s election and not about what’s the substance in this criminal code,” he said. “The fact is that the criminal code has hit these headwinds, which is why I pulled it back.”
But a Senate leadership aide disagreed with Mendelson’s view and said the vote is still expected to occur.
“Not only does the statute not allow for a withdrawal of a transmission, but at this point the Senate Republican privileged motion will be acting on the House disapproval resolution, rather than the D.C. Council’s transmission to the Senate,” the aide said, referencing the Home Rule Act of 1973.
The Home Rule Act delegated some congressional powers to the district government and requires the council chairman to transmit to the House speaker and president of the Senate a copy of each bill approved by the council.
GOP Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, who introduced the Senate measure, denounced the attempt by the district Council to preempt the vote to block its changes to the district’s criminal laws.
“This desperate, made-up maneuver not only has no basis in the DC Home Rule Act, but underscores the completely unserious way the D.C. Council has legislated,” he said in a statement. “No matter how hard they try, the Council cannot avoid accountability for passing this disastrous, dangerous D.C. soft-on-crime bill that will make residents and visitors less safe.”
The proposal from the D.C. Council targeting the criminal code reduces the maximum sentences for some offenses such as carjackings and robberies, and eliminates most mandatory minimum sentences.
While it garnered backing from members of the council, the measure was met with resistance from the chief of the Metropolitan Police Department and top federal prosecutor for the District of Columbia, and it was vetoed by Mayor Muriel Bowser. The council, however, overrode the mayor’s veto, clearing the way for the changes to take effect in 2025.
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