Senate Democrats are in a difficult position as they attempt to show the party is not soft on crime after a vote to nix updates to the District of Columbia’s criminal code thrust the hot-button issue back into the spotlight.
Despite sizable Democratic support for the resolution to block a crime bill passed by the D.C. Council, the GOP is almost certain to use the subject to bludgeon the party in power — especially in cities and suburban areas where they think gains are possible, reports The Hill.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said as much in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, warning Democrats that the issue will continue to haunt the opposing party.
“The Democrats’ flip-flop is good news for the residents of D.C. and the 300-plus-million Americans who deserve to be able to visit their nation’s capital in peace. But Democrats are not getting off the hook this easy,” McConnell said. “They are not going to be able to duck the heat for the violent crime surge to which their policies, their rhetoric, and their political movement have directly contributed.”
Thirty-three Senate Democrats voted on Wednesday with every Republican present to pass the resolution blocking D.C.’s crime bill. Fourteen senators who caucus with Democrats voted against the resolution, while Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) voted present. The lopsided vote came after President Biden said he would not veto the measure if it reached his desk — reversing his earlier position backing D.C.
Democrats are still conscious of the dilemma they face, especially in the early stages of the 2024 cycle.
“It’s not a made-up issue. Our critics will raise that point every time,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat Senate. “I think that, in fairness, we want criminal sentencing that’s tough, it’s smart and just throwing the book at somebody isn’t always the right issue.”
For weeks, Republicans have been on offense over the District’s bill, calling out provisions that lessen penalties for some types of violent crime, including robberies and carjackings that have become fixtures on the nightly news in the capital.
That chatter grew to a crescendo over the past week as Biden, perhaps sensing that more Democrats than just some moderates were considering support for the resolution, threw his weight behind it.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) on Wednesday rolled out an ad campaign targeting 15 House Democrats who voted against nixing the crime bill.
“The public had about as much as they can take of these ‘woke’ policies that are detached from reality,” said Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), the leading co-sponsor of the measure.
D.C. has recorded 101 carjackings during 2023 alone, roughly the same as the 106 reported by this point last year, with 22 of this year’s cases having been closed. Fourteen people have been arrested. Homicides are up 33 percent from the same time last year.
Republicans are unbowed in their criticism of Democratic handling of crime and are promising that it will be a centerpiece of their messaging in the coming months, if not longer. “I think this is one of the defining issues of the 2024 cycle,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
A January ABC News-Ipsos Poll showed that 40% of respondents approved of Biden’s handling of crime and 31% approved on immigration. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said crime was a powerful issue for some independent and moderate voters, particularly white women without college degrees. She described that group as a “key swing vote,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
A man was killed, and two others, including a 15-year-old boy, were injured in a shootout Tuesday night in Southeast Washington
“There are so many people getting killed — too many,” said Mary Faulkner, the 69-year-old grandmother of Dana Faulkner, who was killed in the shootout Tuesday night. She described her grandson as a new father.
Just before the Senate voted on the crime code resolution Wednesday, Mayor Muriel Bowser joined Police Chief Robert Contee III and other public safety leaders on a community walk in Petworth, where a man was fatally stabbed in the neighborhood library this month.
Bowser said she is planning to hold a public safety summit in April to bring together local and federal officials to discuss ways to combat crime. She said that in the next 30 days, she will also present a new legislative package to the D.C. Council to address crime. Bowser did not offer specifics but said the proposal would be separate from changes she had previously suggested to the overhaul of the criminal code.