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Congress May Block D.C. Criminal Code Rewrite, Giving Issue To Biden

Republicans in Congress moved closer on Monday to blocking changes to the District of Columbia’s criminal code, potentially setting up a veto fight with President Biden as the party works to capitalize on fears of rising crime in the run-up to the 2024 campaign. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WVA) said he would join Republicans in voting to overturn a Washington, D.C., sentencing law that reduced penalties on a variety of criminal offenses, raising the possibility of passing a measure that would be sent to the White House, reports the New York Times. “None of that makes sense to me,” Manchin said about lowering mandatory minimum sentences. “I would rescind letting people out,” he added, saying that offenders “know what they can get by with all over the country.”

Senate Republicans hope to amass the votes as early as next week to send Biden the legislation that would block a recently enacted package of local laws that lowered or eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for some violent offenses, including carjacking. The White House has expressed its opposition, though officials have yet to issue a veto threat. The changes in punishment came despite a wave of homicides, carjackings and property crimes that has many Washington residents on edge and asking if now is the time to back away from strong deterrence. Congressional Republicans have pressure Democrats to join them in cracking down or be portrayed as lax on enforcement, part of an effort to make crime a political issue. Most Democrats oppose getting involved in D.C.'s laws, but dozens from conservative-leaning House districts embraced it, reflecting concerns that the rollback of sentences was too drastic and a recognizing the risks of being labeled soft on crime. Some attempts at enacting more progressive sentencing and bail laws have prompted a backlash, including in San Francisco, where a prosecutor was ousted for perceived leniency toward offenders, and New York, where Mayor Eric Adams was elected with a tough-on-crime message. The House passed the bill to roll back the D.C. criminal code revisions with 31 Democrats in favor. With all 49 Senate Republicans in support, sponsors expect to gain at least the two Democrats needed to send the measure to the White House.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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