DC mayor urges US Senate not to block new criminal penalties

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is calling on the U.S. Senate not to vote for a resolution — already approved by the House — that would prevent the District from implementing a new criminal code that includes lighter mandatory penalties for some violent crimes.

The mayor this week wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, stating “Congress should not overturn laws duly enacted by the District of Columbia.”

The letter notes D.C. has no representation in the U.S. Senate, which is now considering a disapproval resolution that would prevent the District from implementing the criminal code approved by the D.C. Council.

The code would make sweeping changes in D.C. sentencing guidelines, including reduction of the mandatory minimum and maximum prison sentences for various violent crimes, including carjacking and armed robbery.

Bowser disagrees with some of the changes and vetoed the legislation. The veto was overturned by the D.C. Council.

But she told congressional leaders in her letter that doesn’t mean she agrees with their efforts to block the D.C. guidelines.

“My concerns with the crime bill and the accompanying veto can be addressed by the council of the District of Columbia and I have already initiated that process,” she wrote in the letter.

D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson this week defended the rewrite of the city’s criminal code and argued it won’t make residents less safe.

But Senate Republicans, echoing arguments made by House GOP lawmakers, charge that the changes are another indication that Democrats are too soft on crime. The House voted for the disapproval resolution earlier this month. with support from 31 Democrats.

A total of 49 senators now support the legislation. That means that only two Democrats would be needed to approve the resolution, which does not have to overcome a 60-vote filibuster as most Senate bills do.

The White House has indicated general support for D.C. and opposition to Congress intervening in the matter. But it has not stated explicitly whether President Biden would veto the legislation if it passes.

Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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