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Tipsheet

DC Council Tries to Withdraw Crime Bill, but There's a Catch

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The city council of Washington, D.C., said it was formally withdrawing its bill to revise the criminal code governing the capital city on Monday — but there's a catch. Republicans say the D.C. Council does not have the authority to pull legislation that's being reviewed now that they know the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022 is doomed.

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The D.C. Council's announcement comes after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution of disapproval to strike down the reworking of penalties for violent crimes to be more lenient and just days before the United States Senate was expected to give assent to the same.  

President Biden, after leaving his party's members in the House hung out to dry on the vote, said he would not veto Congress' action — drawing outcry from members of his party, especially proponents of statehood for the District of Columbia.  

It's still a bit unclear whether the U.S. Senate will still hold its planned vote on the measure since the review process is already underway. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said on Monday that he didn't know if his withdrawal notice will "stop the Senate Republicans" (note: the U.S. Senate is controlled by Democrats) but said the council's position is that "the bill is not before Congress any longer." Just because he says so, however, doesn't mean it is so.

Mendelson acknowledged that he hadn't found precedent for withdrawing a bill after a review had been started by Congress but believes he possesses the authority to do so under the D.C. Home Rule Act. Whether he can stop the review process after it has begun or not, Mendelson said the new criminal code "will not go into effect because I have pulled it back." 

U.S. Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN), however, is saying 'not so fast' to Mendelson and the D.C. Council. 

"This desperate, made-up maneuver not only has no basis in the DC Home Rule Act, but underscores the completely unserious way the DC Council has legislated," Hagerty said in a statement on Monday. "No matter how hard they try, the Council cannot avoid accountability for passing this disastrous, dangerous DC soft-on-crime bill that will make residents and visitors less safe," he added. 

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The D.C. Council's attempt to avoid an official invalidation by Congress comes after a protracted fight to get the measure passed at the District level in the first place. After the council agreed to the new criminal code, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) vetoed the legislation. The D.C. Council then overrode Bowser's veto by a nearly unanimous vote. 

House Republicans subsequently took up the fight to defeat the council's changes, and seemingly secured enough support in the Senate to invalidate the new code. After Biden agreed to go along with Congress' decision — while still claiming to be a supporter of D.C. statehood and its ability to legislate for itself without congressional oversight — it appears the D.C. Council is trying one final effort to prevent an official rebuke by the federal government. 

This is a developing story and may be updated.

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