- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2023

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said Tuesday that city lawmakers didn’t do a good enough job of explaining a criminal-code overhaul that would weaken maximum penalties for some crimes and is on track to be rescinded by Congress as soon as Wednesday.

In an attempt to save face, Mr. Mendelson, a Democrat, tried on Monday to pull back the local law from Congress before the Senate votes to disapprove the law and President Biden signs the measure. 

Yet he defended the city’s decision to redo its criminal code, saying it needs an update and is aligned with penalties for things such as carjacking in other states. He accused Republicans of dismissing those facts to demagogue against the liberal city.

“In hindsight, the council didn’t do a good job messaging,” Mr. Mendelson told Fox 5 DC. “You don’t have the comparison sheet that shows where we are on different crimes with other states or the comparison sheet that shows where this bill is in terms of what judges are actually doing.”

Congress has the constitutional power to block local laws from the D.C. Council and mayor during a mandatory review period.

The new House GOP majority flexed that power to rebuke the city for passing a crime overhaul that lessened some penalties amid widespread concerns about crime in the capital. About 30 House Democrats joined the effort, and several Senate Democrats said they would support the disapproval resolution on the floor.

SEE ALSO: Senate won’t let D.C. off the hook, proceeds with planned slap-down of city’s contentious crime bill

Mr. Biden will sign the resolution to repeal the city law, a reminder that Democrats do not want to be viewed as soft on crime even though they tend to advocate for home rule and statehood for the District of Columbia.

The Senate is proceeding with its disapproval vote Wednesday, a roll call that Mr. Mendelson described as “hollow” because the city wants to withdraw the bill and rewrite it.

The council chairman criticized the resolution’s GOP sponsor, Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, for forging ahead with the resolution, saying his state should examine its own books before rebuking D.C.

“Look at Tennessee, where Sen. Hagerty’s from. The maximum penalty for carjacking in Tennessee is 12 years,” Mr. Mendelson said. “But our bill is soft on crime with a maximum penalty of 24.”

Yet congressional Republicans were quick to seize on comments from the District’s own chief of police.

Earlier this week, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert J. Contee said the average homicide suspect in D.C. had been arrested 11 times previously.

“When they’re in jail they can’t be in communities shooting people,” Chief Contee said in a clip circulated on Twitter by Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican. “We need to keep violent people in jail.”

Republican leader Mitch McConnell, on the Senate floor, said the direction of the D.C. effort — toward weakening penalties — was the problem given concerns by surging crime rates in the nation’s capital.

He also said the GOP will use the vote as a political cudgel against Democrats even if many of them vote to rebuke the city.

“A number of Democrats may jump ship at the eleventh hour trying to act like they’ve been tough on crime all along, but our colleagues will not be getting off the hook that easily,” he said. “Remember, just last summer every single Senate Democrat went on record against a proposal to redirect a portion of their taxing and spending spree to fight surging crime.” 

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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