D.C.’s fight for autonomy hits roadblock (includes video story)

In an unprecedented move, Washington, D.C. city council chairman Phil Mendelson withdrew a crime bill Monday after President Biden said he wouldn’t veto Congress’ decision to block the bill from becoming law.

The bill would have made significant changes to Washington’s crime laws, including reducing mandatory minimum sentences. D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser had vetoed it earlier this year. She disapproved of various changes to the criminal code, saying it wasn’t harsh enough for some violent crimes. After the council overrode her veto, she sent members her recommendations last month. Now she is backing Biden’s veto.

Mendelson announced the withdrawal on Monday in a letter to Vice President Kamala Harris, who is also Senate President, to prevent the Senate from voting to ax it. However, three Senate aides said that the vote will move forward. The constitution allows Congress oversight of the nation’s capital.

Democrats are split on the matter. Some are angered by the intervention into D.C.’s self-governance, while others side with Biden and plan to vote against the bill.

Nevada Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen supports the repeal.

“This is why D.C. should be a state,” she said. “I advocate for D.C. statehood but in this case, we have to really beware and be careful and make sure that people are safe in public.”

While Mendelson acknowledged the council slacked at explaining why the changes were made, he also said that Republicans are using this as an opportunity to set up for next year’s presidential election. The bill has been used to target Democrats for supporting “soft-on-crime” policies.

“I think our challenge here is that the messaging got out of our control and that the messaging got picked up by Republicans who wanted to make a campaign out of it for next year against Democrats,” said Mendelson. 

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Natalie is a senior double majoring in journalism and English. She interned at the Miami Herald and was an NBCU Academy fellow in Washington, D.C., where she reported on national issues that affect South Florida. Natalie has an interest in political reporting and gender issues.