Both Democrats and Republicans scored wins Thursday afternoon. President Biden told Senate Democrats over lunch he wouldn’t stop Republicans from interfering in the affairs of Washington, D.C., when it comes to the city’s criminal code.
Republicans likely notch a victory in their efforts to short-circuit what they describe as the left’s “woke” agenda. And the President’s non-veto inoculates him and other Democrats from the GOP portraying them as “soft on crime.”
The decision by the President awarded the GOP their first tangible success blocking liberal policy radiating from Congress. That’s why House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., unveiled his “Parents Bill of Rights” plan Wednesday.
The GOP seized on mayhem at school board meetings in 2021 and 2022 over masks, COVID polices, curricula and books in school libraries. McCarthy developed the “Bill of Rights” to address these concerns.
Congressional Republicans have long advocated “local control” when it comes to education. But Republicans want to intervene over what transpired in public education over the past few years. McCarthy’s proposal would require school districts to publicly post curriculum, mandate that parents have their say at school board meetings, reveal what books are in school library collections and involve the communities in what’s taught in the classroom.
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The House hasn’t passed this bill yet. But the House has already advanced a plan which makes light of “woke” policies.
That brings us to the District of Columbia bill.
Crime is an issue nationwide. Republicans shout about high crime rates in big cities run by “liberal mayors.” The GOP can’t do much about it at the local level except talk.
But Washington, D.C., is the exception.
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress the power to “exercise exclusive Legislation” over Washington, D.C. In other words, Congress serves as a super city council for the District of Columbia since it’s a federal enclave.
The D.C. Council recently approved two local laws with which Republicans took issue. One plan would allow any person who has lived in the District of Columbia for a month the right to vote – regardless of legal status. The GOP also opposed the city’s plan to soften the local criminal code.
The House engineered resolutions to overturn both of DC’s laws in February. The House passed the one on the municipal criminal code with the support of 31 Democrats. One Democrat voting yea was Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn. On the day of the vote, a man assaulted Craig in the elevator of her Washington, D.C., apartment building.
Customarily, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., could block most GOP bills coming over from the House. Moreover, such measures would likely need 60 votes to break not one but two filibusters. But the Home Rule Act for D.C. allows the Senate to fast-track bills on the floor related to the city. There is even one provision which is specific to altering the criminal code in D.C.
Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., and other GOPers will likely jettison the D.C.-related bill out of the Senate Homeland Security Committee early next week. That would force a mid-week Senate floor vote to align with the House. Several Democrats will likely join all Republicans in adopting a bill to reject D.C.’s criminal code. The bill then goes to the President for Mr. Biden to sign into law.
That’s the Republican “win.”
Now, for the Democratic “win.”
It’s likely that the President announces his 2024 bid for the White House in the coming weeks. Signing a bill to reject D.C.’s “soft on crime city council” helps the President with voters worried about public safety. White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said that Mr. Biden “does not support (the D.C.) council.” She added that “lowering the penalties for carjackings” is “unacceptable.”
This maneuver by the President gives vulnerable Senate Democrats facing tough re-elections in 2024 air cover to reject the D.C. city council changes – and stand up to a place which is often abhorred outside the Beltway. The move would certainly help Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., or Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., – two of the most at-risk Democrats facing re-election next year.
BIDEN WON’T VETO BILL BLOCKING THE SOFTENING OF DC’S CRIMINAL CODE
But not vetoing the bill robs Republicans of an additional political opportunity.
It’s rare that Congress ever successfully overrides a presidential veto. It’s only happened 112 times in American history. The House and Senate lack the two-thirds supermajority necessary to override a veto on the D.C. bill.
But that doesn’t mean that the Republican-controlled House wouldn’t try to stretch out the process.
A GOP Congress was short on the votes to override the veto of former President Obama on a bill to repeal Obamacare. Mr. Obama vetoed the repeal and sent it back to Capitol Hill. But former House Speaker Paul Ryan still brought up the returned measure for a veto override attempt. Ryan’s Sisyphean effort kept the issue in the news for a few days. It gave Republicans one more chance to be on the record against President Obama. But perhaps more importantly, the veto override roll call vote got vulnerable Democrats on the record one more time backing the President and supporting Obamacare.
That’s exactly what Republicans wanted.
It’s likely House Republicans would have deployed a similar gambit on the Washington, DC criminal code bill – trying to override Mr. Biden’s veto even though the outcome was a fait accompli.
The exercise would give House Republicans one more chance to rail against crime. Yell about the problems of a left-wing city like Washington, D.C. And – House GOPers would have gotten Democrats representing Congressional districts on the scoreboard AGAIN – voting to support the District of Columbia and a “weak” criminal code.
You could almost hear the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) writing the attack ads already.
But no veto means no veto override attempt. That slightly alters the narrative about Democrats being “soft on crime.” It diminishes the number of soundbites Republicans have to crow about the nation’s capital and crime. And it keeps Democrats from having to vote to sustain the veto of a President on a very controversial issue.
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